It’s winter in Wisconsin and the chicken coop isn’t heated. In fact, the chicken coop lacks an electrical connection as well, so except for taking pots of heated water in on the coldest days, trying to heat the coop must come from other sources. The slant of the roof and placement of the window ensure that the coop receives maximum winter heat. The tree that normally shields the coop from the sun during the summer months is bare, letting the sun come through. Even with all these measures, the coop is cold enough to let the chicken’s water freeze.
My goals for various activities on my small farm include doing things in a manner that makes my carbon footprint small and keeps costs low. Consequently, I always look for solutions that don’t involve much in the way of high technology, such as obtaining heated chicken waterers. I did seriously look at a solar powered unit for a while, but decided that the chickens would probably destroy it in short order. The better solution turned out to be adding vinegar to the chicken water.
It turns out that vinegar has both a lower freezing temperature and higher boiling point than water. The freezing temperature of vinegar is 28 degrees, but that level increases when you add more water. I tried various levels of vinegar in the chicken water and found that ½ cup per gallon seems to keep the water from freezing for about an hour longer when the outside temperature is in the 15 to 30 degree range. Above 30 degrees, it kept the water from freezing at all.
Adding vinegar to the water also keeps anything from growing inside the waterer, which means that the water is better for the chickens longer. This feature of adding vinegar is especially important during the summer, when all kinds of green gunk grows inside the waterer and is quite hard to keep out.
If you look on other websites, you find that other people attribute all sorts of other benefits to using vinegar. Other websites warn against using vinegar. I haven’t personally tested any of these claims, so I’m not here to tell you that the chickens derive any benefit whatsoever from the vinegar in the water. However, I did try a simple experiment this past summer and found that given two buckets, precisely the same size, color, and make, one with vinegar and one without, the chickens always drank the vinegar water first. My feeling is that they seem to like it. So even if the chickens don’t gain any solid benefits from the vinegar, you can view it as a treat that helps keep the water from freezing longer and keeps their waterer cleaner. Let me know your thoughts on adding vinegar to the chicken water at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.
I’ve received a number of positive comments about the Using a Bleach Substitute post I provided a little over a month ago. The bleach substitute is somewhat potent and there are some negative issues with paracetic acid (although, far fewer than when using bleach). The main reason to use the bleach substitute is as an antibacterial. You use it on surfaces that you must keep bacteria free and are subject to contamination from various sources. The actual amount of paracetic acid in the bleach substitute I provided is quite small, but still, any amount does present hazards, so one of the most commonly asked questions is whether there is an alternative.
You can create a simple relatively non-toxic cleaner using 2 cups of water, 2 tsp of borax, and 2 tsp of white vinegar. However, enough borax (a naturally occurring mineral) will still cause some level of respiratory problems. Theoretically, you could eat enough of it to cause a number of negative symptoms or even cause death, but you’d have to eat quite a lot of it. In fact, borax is used as a food preservative in many countries (albeit, not in the United States). Borax is relatively benign as far as cleaning agents are concerned, but you must still treat it with respect.
This cleaning agent can be kept in a spray bottle beneath the sink because the amount of problematic agents is so small. You’ll find that it does an admirable job of cleaning surfaces and won’t cause any damage to metal surfaces. However, you’ll have to deal with the after effects of the vinegar smell, which does go away relatively fast. Some people recommend using essential oils to control the smell. However, if you add 6 or 7 drops of essential oil to the mixture, it may smell better, but now you have to consider the toxicity of the essential oil. If you choose to add an essential oil, make sure that you obtain a pure oil from a non-toxic source such as peppermint or orange.
Never mix the bleach substitute that I told you about with this cleaning substitute. In fact, mixing cleaners of any sort can cause all sorts of woe (up to and including death). Just as you would never mix bleach with ammonia (the resulting gas will kill you), you shouldn’t mix anything else unless you have a recipe for doing so. Let me know if you have any other questions regarding cleaning substitutes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.
I have become a label commando in recent years. People actually become quite disturbed waiting for me to finish my latest epic reading of a cleaning product or food label. I read everything, including the list of ingredients when I can find one. More importantly, I look for what’s missing on the label. For example, I’m surprised at how many margarine labels refuse to tell me that they don’t contain any cholesterol. Lest you think this is one of those odd fetish requirements—some fish oil tablets actually contain cholesterol. We pay the extra to buy a product that’s labeled cholesterol free (and yes, it does make a difference when the doctor tests your cholesterol).
So I was taken by surprise recently when I read a bleach label. The stuff should be labeled toxic waste and left go at that. The label told me about the dire consequences of using the product, such as permanent damage to my esophagus. Bleach is also a terrible product to use in a house with a septic system because it kills off all of the helpful bacteria in the septic tank and causes the waste to just sit there (possibly flooding your house with a really smelly mess). However, the part about not putting the empty container in the trash or in the recycle bin is what got me most. Just where was I supposed to dispose of the container? It turns out that you’re supposed to take it to a hazardous waste disposal site. A product labeled hazardous waste has no place in my house. (Just consider the fact that many of the foods you buy in the store have been soaked in bleach and you don’t have to think very long about why your food is making you sick.)
Of course, country homes require some means of keeping things clean and getting rid of bacteria, just like anyone else does. It turns out that there is a really good solution and it actually works better than bleach. Most importantly, this solution is pretty much harmless to everyone and everything. You fill up two bottles: one with vinegar and another with hydrogen peroxide. Spray a surface first with the vinegar and second with the hydrogen peroxide and you create a really effective cleaning agent called peracetic acid. The point is to keep the two components separate until you actually need to use them in order to gain a highly effective cleaner that’s a whole lot less harmful than bleach.
What impressed me most is that the combination actually works well on carpets as a stain remover. It’s also much more effective than bleach at getting bathroom grout clean and it works especially well on surfaces with small crevices. Some people do mix the two and add water for use in laundry, but keeping the two chemicals separate is the best way to avoid the potentially toxic qualities of the peracetic acid. As with any cleaner, you do want to use this one with care, but it’s frankly a lot better than using bleach. Let me know your thoughts about this interesting cleaning aid at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.