High Tech or Low Tech?

Inside Dakota Ag

Gadgets can be found in the most surprising places on Dakota farms.

Published on: October 11, 2011

To borrow the famous phrase from the movie Forrest Gump, which I never get tired of watching, talking to farmers is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get.

Like when I called Annie Carlson about their Morning Joy Farm pasture poultry and eggs I thought I d be talking about low tech and getting back to the old way of raising broilers and laying hens.

Annie and her husband, John, have a CSA farm. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. They produce vegetables for about 17 families in the Jamestown, N.D. area.

The couple started raising checks on pasture last year. To house their laying hens over winter, they put up a hoop house. That’s one of those plastic covered greenhouses that are tall enough to walk upright in. They didn’t put in a heat source in the hoop house. Instead, they hoped the composted bedding pack created by the chicken’s litter and oat straw bedding would generate enough heat to the keep the birds warm through the winter.

They weren’t sure, though. It gets awful cold in central North Dakota – 30 below  is common, and the winds can be fierce.

Here’s where the low-tech/high tech angle comes in. To monitor the temperature in the hoop house they mounted a sensor at chicken height above the bedding pack. It transmitted the temperature to a receiver in the Carlsons’ home – about 40 yards away.

“There were some nights last winter when the wind was blowing the snow around so much that we couldn’t even see the hoop house from our house,” Annie says.

Was the plastic still in place? Did the snow collapse the rafters?

“John would check the temperature monitor and announce, “Well, it reads 60 degrees F, so the hoop house must still be there.”

The chickens did fine through the winter, Annie reports. None suffered any frostbite. No combs or feet were lost. In fact, most nights the temperature stayed at about 60 degrees F in the hoop house. The chickens, who didn’t roost in the house but snuggled down in the bedding, kept plenty warm. During the day, when the sun was shining, it would get up to 80-85 degrees F and the hoop house had to be vented.

The Carlsons are pretty smart. They not only have eggs to sell. They have a story to go with them.