Mail Call: May-June 2010

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Jeri Youngren decided to turn his 1962 Chevy truck into a rustic-looking chicken coop.
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The inside of the cab includes straw for nesting.
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The feed is kept safe from critters in the utility boxes.
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Double fences and extra space keep deer from Charlie Clarke’s garden.
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The Youngrens keep the chickens and the truck-coop right near the garden. Everybody wins.
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The photographer found a renewed interest in Longhorn cattle when he shared his images.

Pickup Poultry

We converted our 1962 Chevy truck into a chicken coop. The feed is kept safe from critters in the utility boxes, and the nesting materials are kept dry under the hood. The hens roost in the cab, and their nests are in the truck bed with a warming light. They are safe from predators inside their “camouflaged for the neighbors” coop. When it rains, they mill around under the truck and stay dry. They do fight over the privilege of roosting on the steering wheel.

The truck is situated next to our garden where, during the winter months, the chickens act as symbiotic little tractors and churn up the soil. We have 14 hens representing the Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red and Lakenvelder Golden breeds. They give us lovely green, white and brown eggs daily.

We live in Prescott, Arizona, where urban farming has taken off. We thought it was a good way to utilize an old truck and provide the hens with a safe haven from the coyotes and bobcats that plague the neighborhood. We plan to add six more chickens this year and an area in the back to raise the chicks. Thought you might enjoy some photographs of the “chicken coupe.”

Jeri Youngren
Prescott, Arizona

Garter Snakes and Rats

In response to Martha Boyd’s request for information about garter snakes in relationship to chickens and rats in the January/February issue (in “Garter Snakes for Chickens,” Mail Call), we would like to submit the following.

Garter snakes are not constrictors, thus they can only eat non-threatening prey such as toads, worms and juvenile (eyes not open yet) rodents. Keep in mind that mother rats are more than capable of defending their broods. After two weeks of age, a rat is more likely to eat a garter snake than the other way around. Chickens, too, are highly carnivorous and wouldn’t think twice about having a tug-of-war over a snake. If snakes are truly the venue you wish to pursue (for rodent control), constricting colubrids such as milk and rat snakes would be a more appropriate choice.

Kim and Mike Gay
Cedarville, Michigan 

Healthier Comfort Foods

I love that you’re finding ways to make comfort foods healthier (“Old-Fashioned Cookies for the 21st Century,” March/April). In the description of whole-wheat flour, you said it can be substituted for all-purpose flour in most cookie recipes, but it doesn’t hold true for bread. There is a way that 100-percent whole-wheat can be used most successfully in bread.

A couple of years ago when my husband wanted to bake bread, I told him I wanted 100-percent whole-wheat. After about six months of throwing away every loaf because they didn’t rise, were hard and bitter tasting, he started milling his flour fresh, and that has made all the difference. We are now selling both the flour and mills to people who didn’t believe they could make a product without adding white flour, and they have become firm believers.

Marty Glanville
Sunrise Flour Mill
North Branch, Minnesota

For More Deer Fencing

I was fascinated by Mr. Will’s article, “Deer Control Made Easy,” in the January/February issue of GRIT.

I, too, have struggled with those pesky animals over the years. They have destroyed some of my young fruit trees and many garden vegetables. After observing their habits, I came up with my own scheme some years ago that has proven quite effective for my applications, which include a small orchard and a vegetable garden.

For many years, I had purchased the mesh used to reinforce concrete to make cages for my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc. It generally comes in 50- and 150-feet rolls. The cages keep plants upright and also offer protection against various animals, especially when the cages are wrapped with chicken netting or other small mesh. After observing deer habits, I decided upon yet another use for the mesh.

Deer are high jumpers and not broad jumpers. With this in mind, I began to cut manageable lengths (10 to 15 feet) from the mesh and curved them down the middle lengthwise so they would stand some 8 to 10 inches off the ground at the center. I then placed the pieces just outside the drip line of the fruit trees the deer were visiting.

Deer are also creatures of habit. When I first started “fencing” the apple trees, the deer were already accustomed to coming regularly for the fruit. So, back they came. But after they encountered the mesh once, that was it. The application works equally well for a vegetable garden and can “grow” as the size of the garden grows.

The mesh is fairly expensive to purchase up front. However, when you consider it will last for years, it becomes affordable over the long haul. I have some that has been in use in excess of 20 years now. Of course, I take mine up and store it in the barn during the winter months.

Other advantages are that it is easily moved for mowing, since nothing is permanently installed; there is no continuing cost or maintenance involved; and finally, it is readily expandable to whatever size desired.

Denver Thomas
Milton, West Virginia

Bravo, Denver. That is an excellent bit of improvisation. – Editors

Further, in the article we pointed to our website, where Charlie Clarke offered his foolproof homemade garden spray to keep bugs and fungus at bay.Here is some additional advice from Charlie regarding that spray:

I usually tell anyone I give the ingredients to that I always spray after 8 p.m. (if I can) to avoid the bees, and if the heat is going to cause foliar damage, I always get out early and spray the plants down good. This really is almost as good as store-bought spray for spider mites and some aphids that can’t fly, because they can’t make it back to the tomato plants and generally die. It’s my understanding the dish soap is sodium hydroxide-based. I think it exterminates better than Safer, and I know it’s a lot cheaper, but I also have seen the damage it can do if it’s going to be hot and you don’t wash it off. I’m going to try mixing diatomaceous earth in it next year, but that will make it even more imperative to spray after 8 p.m.

I’m hoping the flowers are closed and the bees simply hover, instead of climbing around the plants. I needed a residual effect. There was no question that I had the cleanest tomatoes I’ve ever raised at the end of the year last year. They usually become musty. Must have something in the formula right.

Charlie Clarke
Shawnee, Kansas 

Longhorn Love

Please have a look at this photo of a Longhorn. I took the photograph here in northern Indiana on the Max Metzger cattle farm.

It seems there is a renewed interest in the Longhorn cattle breed. When I have shared these photos with other farmers, they have told me of at least five other places where they raise Longhorns here in Indiana. My association with farming is my son, who farms 600 acres of grain close to North Manchester, Indiana.

Ted Rose
North Manchester, Indiana 

Easy Bread-making

I was excited to find the latest issue of GRIT in my mailbox this morning, and I was even more thrilled to see that it featured bread recipes. Baking a fresh loaf of bread is one of my favorite ways to heat the kitchen during the long, cold Wisconsin winter. I have a wonderful recipe for a French bread loaf that takes about an hour, from start to finish, that I would like to share with you. This bread has been a big hit with everyone who has tried it, and it is so simple to make that we don’t usually buy commercial breads anymore. 

Easy Rapid-rise bread

5 1?2 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1?2 teaspoon salt
2 packages fast-rising yeast (or 41?2 teaspoons bread machine yeast)
2 cups hot water (125-130°F)
2 to 3 tablespoons melted butter 
Using upright mixer, combine all dry ingredients in mixing bowl using dough hook to distribute yeast and sugar throughout flour. Turn off mixer; add hot water.
Turn mixer back on, to medium-low setting, and allow dough hook to knead about 5 minutes. Depending on humidity in your flour, you might need to add a little more flour or water to the mix to acquire the perfectly smooth and elastic bread dough.
Turn off mixer, remove dough hook, cover dough and let rest about 10 minutes; divide dough in half.
Using rolling pin, roll out half of dough into approximate 10-by-15-inch rectangle (you can skip this and just shape the dough into a loaf by hand, but I find it to be a heavier bread when finished).
Roll dough into a tube about 8 inches long and fold/pinch ends under. Place, seam-side down, onto baking stone sprinkled with a little cornmeal or flour to keep dough from sticking. Roll out and shape duplicate loaf and place it on baking stone about 2 to 3 inches away from first loaf on stone.
Make 4 diagonal cuts on top of each loaf using a razor blade or really sharp knife, if you want (or not; it’s just for aesthetics). Brush top of each loaf with a little melted butter. Let rise in warm, draft-free place for 35 minutes.
Heat oven to 425°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until crusts are golden-brown. Remove baking stone from oven, and place loaves on wire rack to cool. Brush tops with remaining melted butter. Yields 2 loaves.

Ms. Michel Berner
Fairchild, Wisconsin

Mending Material

I have been busy trying recipes from the latest issue and just now read the article on restoring old and used clothing (“Don’t Toss It: Mend It!” in the March/April issue). In addition, clothing no longer in use can be used for quilting. I made a great quilt from used jeans (the backs of the legs are usually in great shape). I have made several “memory” quilts for surviving spouses and have made some entirely from men’s ties. Who needs them anyway?! The logos from T-shirts make great quilts, the remaining neck part is great for a baby bib, and the leftover scraps are good cloths for dusting or polishing. Anyhow, we do a lot of quilting here in Vermont, and these thoughts came to mind when I read the article.

Elaine Nordmeyer
Hubbardton, Vermont 

Canola and the Rapeseed

In the lead picture of a recent article entitled “Farm your Niche” (Page 56 in the March/April issue), you described the lead photo as “bees and canola plants.” I believe you may be mistaken about those being canola plants. If you intended to describe them as the plant from which canola oil is derived, it is the rapeseed plant. There is no such thing as the “canola plant,” according to my online search. Just thought you may be interested to know that. Enjoy the magazine. Keep up the good work.

Lee Fornelius
Norfork, Arkansas 

Thanks for pointing this out, Lee. We may both be right on this one. Canola oil is definitely derived from the rapeseed plant (Brassica napus) – in this case, a family of hybrid rapeseed cultivars were originally given the trademarked name Canola because they were bred in Manitoba as CANadian Oilseed Low-Acid for producing oil low in erucic and other acids. So technically, canola plants do exist – and that’s the problem with common names and trademarked names, you never really know what plant is in question! – Editors

Goiter Cure for Cattle

Many years ago, we had a farmer who worked part time for us. One morning he arrived with actual tears in his eyes, and I asked him what the problem was. He explained that his one cow had just had a calf, but it had a huge goiter, and he was going to have the vet put it down.

I called one of my husband’s veterinarian uncles and told him the problem. He said that while it doesn’t always work, he’d had some success coating goiters with iodine and doing it over several days. The farmer decided to try it, and it worked – big time! The second day, the goiter was noticeably reduced, and by the end of the week, the calf was normal.

I loved Rosanne Anderson’s “Bringing Up Baby Calves” article (March/April 2010).

Patricia Johnson
Bellingham, Washington 


In the March/April article, “First Milk Makes All the Difference,” the caption in the picture states that “Colostrum is more important for lambs … than humans, because we are passively immunized in the womb, while farm animals are not.” This is not true.

Human infants need colostrum for the same reasons as lambs. Humans also need passive immunization, and some of that can only come from colostrum.

Elizabeth Noreen
Hawthorne, Wisconsin 

Thanks, Elizabeth, we probably should have clarified that. Of course we recognize colostrum is also helpful for human babies; however, because lambs and other farm animals are not passively immunized before birth, it is even more important for livestock. – Editors