Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Great Chicken Massacre

Foxy Bird.jpg
We suffered a devastating loss yesterday.  In the wee hours of the morning a fox broke into our chicken coop and laid waste to all the birds.  There were over thirty dead.  About 20 meat birds and all 15 of our beautiful and friendly egg layers.

At first it seemed a total loss, but while cleaning up the carnage we found one bird still alive and hiding among the dead.

She has had the skin ripped off one leg, all the way up to her hip and her armpit.  The injury makes her almost immobile, but otherwise she seems lively and alert. 

We took her next door to the adobe, where she is now living in a dog crate.  Her injury has been treated with Woundkote, a spray on antiseptic dressing.  She is eating and drinking, and I promised her that if she pulls through, she will live a long life as an honorary egg layer.

We are calling her Foxy, as a reminder of what a terrible loss we suffered because our so-called 'fortress' couldn't keep out one burrowing varmint.

This is the last time we will ever have an intruder in our coop!

Google image: Terlingua kit fox

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tasty Interview

Yesterday evening we had a great visit from new friends Brittanie, a journalist from the Houston Press, and her hubby Chris, a marine engineer.

Got to feed them some delicious home-grown chicken we had butchered the day before, and they treated us to some wonderful Real Ale from the Hill Country.

They also interviewed fellow off-gridders John Wells and Jess from Shady80.

Always fun to talk with friends and show off the homestead.

Bathroom is moving along, little by little. But we have tile and mortar for the walls ready to go up, and permanent plumbing about to be installed.  That and some paint, and she'll be ready for a photo shoot soon enough.

Bathroom door is still waiting in the wings, but in the hot weather it's nice to have just a light curtain that lets the air flow past.

But with new Ikea additions in the kitchen, the revamped bed area with a larger mosquito net, a mirror mosaic, and other upgrades ... the interior of the house is getting more photogenic every day.  

Someday soon we'll have to begin prepping the house exterior for stucco.  The hard candy coating will be a huge upgrade, but first we have to cover the house with asphalt felt and stucco lath.

So much to do, and not enough days in the week.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT)

morningstar-mppt.jpgSolar charge controllers that come with maximum power point tracking (MPPT) are becoming widespread and less expensive. But many people don't know much about charge controllers in general, and even less about electronics and MPPT specifically. So we thought we would share our knowledge and experience on the subject.

Maximum power point tracking is not related to solar tracking.

Solar trackers move your array to point at the sun wherever it is in the sky, which can increase it's power output by a few percentage points, and help your system make power during dawn and dusk.

Maximum power point tracking has nothing to do with physical tracking, and has everything to do with the laws governing electricity. Specifically, Ohm's Law and Joule's Law.

baby-studying.jpgThe following may seem boring and/or confusing to some of you, but understanding these laws and the behavior of electricity is crucial to understanding how solar power works (and how it can be made more efficient).

Ohm's Law states that current, voltage, and resistance are measured proportionally. This law can be distilled into the following mathematical formula:

V = I x R

Where V = voltage, I = current, and R = resistance.

And knowing what we do about algebra, this formula can be rearranged to find a value for any one of the three elements. For example, to find current:

I = V / R

And to find resistance:
R = V / I

Joule's law states that power (P, which he measured as heat dissipated) is proportional to the current value squared and the resistance in the circuit. The law is distilled into the following equation:
P = I2 x R

Thanks to Joule's Law and Ohm's Law, we know that power also has a special mathematical relationship to voltage and current.
P = I x V

Manipulating one value in the equation directly affects and changes the values of the others. And this very wordy explanation is leading to how MPPT charge controllers work, I promise.

So now that we know how the values relate to one another, we can manipulate the input value to optimize the power output.  This is usually illustrated with a PIV curve

Plextor 12x PIV Plot.PNGSo what a MPPT charge controller does is this:

The charge controller's electronics evaluate all the data it is receiving from the batteries and the solar panels, and adjusts the values for P, I, and V to the best possible benefit of your battery bank.

In doing so, the MPPT charge controllers increases your system's overall efficiency by a significant percentage.  Using an MPPT charge controller on our homestead's system has given us added power equivalent to an entire extra solar panel in the array

An added benefit of using an MPPT charge controller is that you do not have to match your array output voltage to your battery bank voltage.  Not only does it make the rules about sizing your system a whole lot less strict, this allows you to set up an array at high DC voltage and transmit the power farther, and on lighter gauge wire.

So you see, MPPT is a technology that opens up many doors to users of PV power.  It increases the efficiency of your array, netting you more useable power; it allows arrays and battery banks to be mismatched; and it allows us to use high voltage DC transmission lines from array to power center.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Good Eats

Chickens at 7 weeks 028.JPGPeople have asked us why we choose to raise chickens for meat.  Is it cheaper? No. A bird you raise to eat usually costs around $17 per bird, from egg to table.  We haven't done our own calculations yet, but we hope it is less because we process them by hand.  After butchering, we'll try to figure it out and post that info here.

Chickens at 7 weeks 022.JPGBut we do find raising the meat birds very rewarding on many levels.

First of all, the meat is delicious!

Furthermore, the small scale of a backyard flock means it is easier to keep the birds healthy. Large scale poultry operations commonly lose several birds every day, due to disease or other factors. 

Chickens at 7 weeks 035.JPGBut in a small flock, the farmer can monitor each individual bird very closely, and manage the  ill birds immediately.
Chickens at 7 weeks 039.JPGMany animals in the industrialized food system are given large doses of strong, chemical medicines in anticipation of exposure to, and to prevent the spread of, disease. 

But most small farmers do not need to use those same measures, and therefore the animal has less hormones and less chemical medicine in its system.

The three most commonly discussed types of farming are: organic, industrial, and sustainable.

Organic chickens eat organic feed and are never given any antibiotics or chemical medication.  The label 'organic' is the gold standard and requires a very rigorous farming operation.

Industrial chickens are raised in giant coops or cages, in very crowded conditions and usually with no sunlight or fresh air.  With the birds packed like sardines, the temperatures in the coops and cages are often over 100 degrees, even with huge fans moving the air.  And the waste is overwhelming from such a huge number of animals.  The conditions are so stressful for the birds, they are given Prozac to keep them from dying or killing each other.

Sustainable farming (what we try to do) is a compromise that permits farmers to give medication only when needed, and feed natural grains that may not have been produced under the strictest organic standards.

Butchering is not something we would ever describe as 'fun,' but at least we know that our birds are healthy and well cared-for during their lives.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Bone to Pick?

terlingua-coyotes-killed-01.JPGSomeone clearly has a beef with the local coyotes.

terlingua-coyotes-killed-02.JPGCame across this morbid display on Cedar Springs road today.

terlingua-coyotes-killed-03.JPGSeems like a gory waste, but I'd be interested to hear the story of why the beasts died.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Terlingua Green Scene 2012

The fourth annual Terlingua Green Scene is tomorrow, April 7th.

The All Energies team will be there all day, powering the Beer Garden and answering questions about alternative energy.

You can listen to Mark and Shannon's KTRS [Marfa Public Radio] interview here.

We are transporting the Sun Station to the Ghostown today, but even if there's no sunshine, there's plenty of battery power!  Although, a cloudy day would be unusual for Terlingua.

Come check out the demonstrations and other activities! Plenty of sustainable fun to be had by all!