Once you own a homestead, it can become very tempting to try out every.single.thing. that sounds good! Why not right? If you’ve got the land, and the barn/space/outbuildings, and the desire to learn, the question always comes up, “Well, why not?”
During these first 9 months as homesteaders we’ve learned that there are many good reasons NOT to try everything, and every opportunity, that presents itself! I thought I’d share a quick random run down of some of our lessons learned the hard way.
First… as much as I REALLY hate to admit that my husband may be right about this one…
1. Do not add anything you are not ready for.
Case in point, chickens. We’ve had chickens for years, before even moving across country. On our new homestead there was already a chicken coop, it even has a fenced in yard. However, the chicken coop was not truly winterized and hubby really wanted me to wait to get chickens. I had many good reasons not to wait though! Fresh eggs most importantly! Plus I have a hatred of throwing away scraps and get a big thrill from feeding them to the chickens.
So I read and read and read about winterizing chicken coops and SO MANY articles, blogs, and books said chickens do NOT need heat. SOooo we didn’t worry about adding heat. We always kept the coop as cozy as possible, with LOTS of straw and hay and decided on the deep litter method for the winter.
Well, our chickens obviously do need some heat, and I should have listened to my hubby (still wanting to deny that one… we do enjoy our eggs and chickens). When bitterly cold temperatures hit, it became too much for them and we lost our very favourite part banty rooster and our eldest rare coloured hen. Thankfully we only lost 2 birds, it could have been much worse. That day we immediately added two heat lamps to their coop (much to my dismay, because heat lamps do cause fires each year), made their coop much smaller inside to keep the heat central. Hubby was right, it would have been much more enjoyable to have done that extra work in the warm temps of summer rather than at temps below -40c!
To be better prepared for next winter, this summer we are building a whole new chicken coop. This coop will be built to last a lifetime. We’ve been researching all the best coop ideas and making a list of what we’d like to add into ours. We plan to make it a double coop with one side for hens hatching eggs, and/or other breeds we might like to add. We also hope to create a washable floor with some sort of spray in liner or lino. We’re still researching what would be the best for our needs.
As a bonus, we want to incorporate new and old things from around the homestead, such as a huge old window we found in the quonset. I hate that our birds have no window to look out of this winter and that they live in a dark closed off coop right now. (We do have a light in their coop, but I really prefer natural light!) We will also be repurposing wood from the outbuildings on the property that are no longer used. This will save us funds, plus recycle. Double bonus! We’re also researching the best way to heat the coop, but most of all, we’ll insulate it well enough that only minimal heat will be needed. My absolute ideal would be to heat it some way using solar power… but so far all those who I’ve spoken to/emailed have said it most likely would not be cost efficient for the amount of solar panels we would need. If anyone heats their chicken coop in a energy & cost efficient way, that does not include a heat lamp or other dangerous source of heat, please do share!
2. Don’t expect to do too much, too fast.
This one was really difficult, because when we bought this homestead lots NEEDED to be done, and it was hard to decide what needed to be done first! So we made a list and proceeded to get the majority of it completed before snow fell.
We wound up doing everything that needed to be done outside first. Of course it was impossible to get it ALL done, but we did a good bit!
We managed to get the garden tilled, planted, and posts up. We didn’t manage to finish putting the actual wire fencing on the posts but aside from a few potatoes lost to some critter, we didn’t experience any real loss in the garden and even our dogs learned to stay out of that big dirt square I tended to spend quite a bit of time in. They simply learned to sit and watch from the sidelines.
We created a garden, filled it with seeds and harvested our bounty.
In doing so, we filled the newly renovated cold cellar.
We also filled half the barn with sheep and pigs and raised the pigs to fill the freezer to go along with our bountiful harvest of fruits and veggies!
However, some things didn’t get done. We were able to build the back porch, but not finish it to the point of insulation. It has been a great wind break regardless though, and by next winter it will be insulated and have a door on it!
On a homestead, the list of things to do really never ends. We were able to patch the barn roof, but it will need to be replaced within a few short years to really do the job right.
We were able to clear and clean out the barn, fill the loft with hay, but we never did finish putting in the stalls. Our horses have done fine in their new paddock and have been well sheltered regardless. We had to decide to either do the stalls half-a$$ed or wait to do them right, we decided to wait.
On the other hand, some things got done that we never even plan to do! Like a riding ring! We were pounding posts for horse fences and still had posts and daylight left over, so while we had the rented post pounder we decided to just go for it and put in a riding ring! It didn’t get finished, but the posts are all there! Come spring, we’ll put up the rails and our family will finally have a riding ring after having horses for 8 years!
There were so many other things we did in a short period of time after moving in that we really should never have expected to get EVERYTHING done. The biggest non-homestead adventure to take up our time was our adoption. The 10 week adoption training course, building another bedroom, and a trip out west to pick up our new son.
My husband and I are contemplating whether we have a ‘thing’ for adding chaos to our lives. We’ve kind of promised ourselves to try and do less of that in 2014. If I had to ask which bit of ‘chaos’ to take out of our lives last year though, I’d be hard pressed to pick anything that wasn’t a great learning experience! Even through the adoption process and THREE moves in one year, there’s not a whole lot of bad I can say about any one of those moves now that we’re at this end of it all. And so we learn and carry on.
3. Stick to your original homestead plan! You probably created it for good reason!
Do not allow heartstrings to sway you into moving away from that plan.
One of the many bonuses of homesteading is baby animals. Who doesn’t LOVE a baby farm animal?! They are so cute, and the thought of bottle feeding a baby animal warms just about any person’s heart. However, the down side to breeding animals is that the babies can die. Also, the cost of having the proper supplies on hand for the baby animals can be high, and the profits (if that’s what you’re aiming for) can be very low. I don’t personally know of many homesteaders who can afford to loose money!
For these reasons, we have never really intended to breed our own animals. We’ve also been through this before, because of the two rescue horses that came to us pregnant (it wasn’t known that they were pregnant at the time) and after one very young mare had a premature stillborn, we realized this just wasn’t something we really wanted to do. Our plan has always been to raise our own animals, from the point of weaning to the point of their use. Whether it be pigs, chickens, or cows for the freezer, horses for riding, sheep for wool, or chickens and ducks for eggs. I do not, nor do my children, have the heart to raise pregnant animals, wait on pins and needles hoping for a good birth, and possibly watch babies suffer.
However, last spring the opportunity came along for the kids to raise sheep, meat sheep.
We don’t eat lamb, so we hmmmm… & hawwwwed… quite a bit about the decision. Our plan had always been to have two ewes (female sheep) from young to raise for wool. Wool sheep! Shaylah felts wool into many art projects, and it just made sense to have wool sheep. Shaylah always wanted a sheep! You can’t have just one though, it would be lonely, so the plan was always to have two. Two females so there’d be no concern about breeding.
Shaylah fell in love with a male sheep at a friends farm, and he came along with two female sheep, so we said yes to raising sheep. We finally decided that it’d be a learning experience and perhaps Shaylah (and Julia, who decided she wanted one of the ewes) could even make a little money raising the lambs. As much as we have grown very fond of our three sheep Molly, Dolly, and Wally, after going through one lambing so far, loosing twins and only having one of the three babies from the first batch survive, we really wish we had stuck with our original plan.
The cost to lamb, between supplies needed on hand, and supplies needed “just in case” (like colostrum, lamb milk replacement powder, etc. if things don’t go well (we live rurally, it’s always best to have things on hand then to risk NOT having it on hand and needing it at 4am on a Sunday!) we went WAY over budget. IF we were raising LOTS of lambs, this wouldn’t be so bad because the same costs for many lambs isn’t much different for the cost for one lamb! But we’re not raising many lambs and never intend to do so, meaning the cost has been quite high.
On our facebook page someone mentioned not to give up! As much as I truly appreciate the support to stick with it, I don’t feel we’re giving up if we decide not to continue on with raising lambs. I feel we’re simply going back to our original plan. We have learned lots through this experience, so we don’t truly regret it. We will learn from it, and not make the same mistakes again. Plus, at this point we do fully intend to keep Millie, our one living lamb, as a pet. Shaylah will use her wool for her crafting projects, hopefully for many many years to come. If we find a new home for our current ewes and ram, we intend to find the perfect little friend to keep Millie company. Hopefully a true wool breed lamb for a finer wool, for Shaylah’s felting. We’ll be on the lookout for Millie’s new BFF this spring!
The fourth large lesson we learned this year was about storing foods. It’s a lot of info, so I will create a whole other post about that one some time soon.
Just remember, if you are new to homesteading and feeling a little like a failure, it’s really not uncommon! I’ve been encouraged by other blogs of new homesteaders who have been open enough to share their successes and even failures. There’s SO much to learn in the first few years. We often learn best by making a few mistakes along the way. We’re not alone in that! We’re reminded of how many times so many famous men and women of the past failed before they ever truly made it! If we just keep on keeping on, soon we’ll be succeeding much more then we could ever fail!
In the meantime, there’s been lots of little (and some big) successes and lessons along the way!
How about you? How’s your homestead plans coming along? If you’re wanting to homestead but live in the city or in town, do you have plans to try a few smaller things like herb gardening etc.? Do you have plans to make a move to a homestead one day? Share your stories, we love to hear from you!