I’ve wanted to add animals to our homestead for a while now. We’ve not gone beyond the chickens we got in 2012 other than adding a couple of gray cochins last year. They are the nicest chickens. I wish the black sex links would leave them alone. We lost our remaining Ameracauna and one of the brown sex links this past winter.
I always thought ducks or meat chickens would be next. Due to a heavy weed problem we have on our 7 acres, I’m leaning more toward goats being the next acquisition. I’ve done some research on which goats to get and it looks like any that eat weeds are good choices! Since goats are social animals it would be best to get more than one. Larger goats will eat the leaves off trees as high as they can reach. I don’t necessarily want the leaves eaten off the trees, so I might have to pass on large goats. Instead I’m planning on medium and small goats. Actually, I’m planning on whatever goats I can get for $50 or less per goat.
My original plan was to start the goats in the back yard and hope our dog would appreciate the company during the day. Our dog is a border collie and pointer mix and I suspect he will be ok with them. Worse case we could tether them during the day outside of the backyard. Though I’ve heard stories from friends about goats that end up strangling themselves. I don’t know the details, but I don’t want that to happen.
I will eventually get panels when the goats are done in the backyard. The recommendation I’ve found is 16’ x 4’ cattle panels. I’ve only found one store so far that will deliver them. They’re around $26 each. I figure 4 of them should give a good size area. They are supposed to be easy to put up and also easy to move as the goats need to be moved around the property.
Desert Husband and I talked about how cool it would be to have goat milk to make products we can sell. We both work full time outside the home so that might be a possibility in the future, but not currently. Neither of us care for the taste of goat milk so I plan on getting wethers. If they aren’t already castrated, I have a friend who will take care of that for me.
Maybe in the future we would raise goats to sell for meat. I came across a statistic that said a lot of the goat meat is imported in the U.S. to meet the demand. I’m so naïve I didn’t even know goats were eaten in this country. I live in an area that has a high demand for goat meat which is something I learned through the grapevine after finding out people eat goat meat. I’m keeping that information in the back of my mind for when I can make the switch from full time employment at a J-O-B to full time homesteading.
It’s time to plant the garden. I never seem to find the time to clean up the garden beds in the fall. But it is on my list. I’ve spent a few weekends trying to weed out the cheatgrass and other obnoxious weeds. We’ve had quite a bit of rain this spring. Maybe it just seems that way since it only manages to rain on the weekends when I have time to do homestead stuff. The plus side of all the rain is it makes it a lot easier to pull out the weeds.
This year the weeds were so bad they had grown quite a network of roots on top of the weed barrier. I thought I was going to have to pull the weed barrier out and start fresh. After being out there recently, it seems a lot easier to pull out the roots. Thank you rain! I hate tossing out perfectly good dirt.
The Boy Scout troop that Desert Son belonged to has an annual plant sale to raise funds for camping trips. I love getting my plants from them. It was always a plus when Desert Son was still in Scouts (recent Eagle Scout and high school graduate) and the percentage of what I purchased went into his account for future events. Luckily I still have contacts now that he is no longer participating in Scouts.
I usually order way more plants than I could possibly plant. I gamble on the side that a) I might not actually be able to get everything I ordered and b) some of the plants are going to die before I actually get them planted. Tomatoes and peppers are at the top of the list. I love to can paste tomatoes. Even though I’ve never been able to get a large enough quantity to can, I still hold on to hope. This will be the year. The paste tomatoes are the only tomato plants that are put in the garden bed. The rest of the tomatoes are planted in containers. In years past, I’ve put the peppers in containers as well. I might try them in the garden beds this year. I’ve been toying with the idea of actually using the book I have on square foot gardening this year.
I also purchased sunflowers, zucchini, lavender, artichoke, spaghetti squash, pumpkins, and watermelon plants. Although I’ve yet to be successful with zucchini because of the squash bugs, I’m optimistic this year. Those squash bugs are going to become treats for the chickens! I also have a lot of seeds left over that I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds a couple years ago. Unfortunately, due to my time management (or procrastination) problem, I didn’t get any of them started inside. I use the personalized planting reminders from the Farmer’s Almanac to tell me when to plant. Luckily I can still plant a lot of my seeds outside. Just as soon as I get all the weeds pulled. I was pulling weeds this weekend right up until the rain came.
Update…when I first wrote this it was time to plant the garden. Now we’re about a month out from the time I drafted this post. Sadly, the sunflowers, zucchini, spaghetti squash, pumpkins and watermelon plants all died before I could get them planted. I ended up buying replacements for the zucchini, pumpkin, and watermelon. This year I thought I’d try my hand at growing cauliflower and Brussels sprouts as well. Oh, and Desert Daughter wanted a jalapeno pepper plant too. One of my beds has chocolate mint in it. I thought it would be a good idea to plant strawberries in the same bed. We’ve had strawberries in the past that I started in pots. They ended up spreading to the ground and are running wild!
In 2012, Desert Daughter and I drove 20 miles to a chicken farm to pick out some future egg layers. Chicks are so cute and it was hard to put a limit to what we brought home. All I knew was we would have no white chickens. I have memories of plucking white chickens at my aunt’s about 35 years ago. The odor of wet feathers is something I can still smell today! My adult logic tells me color has nothing to do with the smell and my chickens’ feathers would probably smell just as bad if they were wet and getting plucked. However, I had no current plans to butcher these chickens. And if I did…I’d probably hire someone to do it. I’m not ready for that part of the homestead dream yet.
Two Ameracaunas, two black sex-links, and two brown sex-links made the final cut and came home with us in a box. Both colors of the sex-links looked the same and were hard to tell apart. The Ameracuanas were different colors. One was white/gray and reminded me of a pigeon. The other was brown and had feathers that I thought resembled a quail’s. We put the four day old chicks in a large plastic tote with a heat lamp and put them in their new home in the garage. Since it was only April, we had several weeks before they could move outside. This gave my husband time to get that chicken coop built. I knew if I waited to get chickens until the coop was built…I might be waiting for the cows to come home. And we don’t even have cows…yet!
It was fun and exciting to constantly check on the chicks. They were growing so fast. The day finally came when they could move into their new digs. The chicks weren’t in their new coop for very long when something happened to Dave (the white Ameracauna). She was laying around with a bad leg. I’m not sure what happened since she was fine in the plastic tote. We returned her to the tote for a chance to get better. Unfortunately she never got better and passed into chick heaven.
As a side note, all the chicks were given names by my kids. The Ameracaunas were the only names I could remember.
The chicks started laying eggs later that summer. We only got a few eggs. It was such a good feeling to gather the eggs that were provided by our hens. I researched several websites for information on taking care of chickens in the winter. I decided not to prolong the daylight for our hens to fool them into being productive in the winter months. It felt right to me to let nature take its course and give the hens a resting period in the winter. The first winter, we concentrated on keeping them warm and keeping their water from freezing.
We used the same heat lamp that we had used when they were chicks. We ran an extension cord to the coop—which was close to an outlet. I bought an aquarium heater to keep their water from freezing even though the folks at the pet store advised against it. We never did get the aquarium heater hooked up and ended up resorting to constantly knocking the ice out of the water dish. As we’ve gotten more experience in the last few years, we’ve resorted to using a dog water bowl that plugs in and keeps the water above freezing.
I got the bright idea a couple years ago to turn our front yard into food production. We never seemed to have time to mow the grass anyway. We live on 7 acres in a rural area in the high desert. Our property is primarily sagebrush and tumbleweeds except for the front and back lawn. Who am I kidding, the sagebrush, tumbleweed, and thistle have taken over the back lawn. But I digress…
Besides making the front yard productive, I was tired of making the 150 yard trek to the garden! Last time we had a garden in the designated garden area, Desert Daughter and I encountered a badger. It was about 100 yards from us advancing fast. Up until that moment, it never occurred to me I should add a shotgun to my list of garden tools. I sent Desert Daughter to the house to get Desert Husband. In the meantime, the badger paused, probably contemplating his next move. It decided to continue toward me. I was a little freaked out and mesmerized at the same time of what this wild creature was going to do. It finally decided it was done trying to intimidate me and made a 90 degree turn and headed off toward the neighbor’s property. Desert Husband didn’t make it outside in time to see or shoot the badger.
Food production in the front yard began with Desert Husband building raised garden beds out of 1″ x 8″ x 8′ long boards. We used non treated wood and attached 1/2″ x 1/2″ wire to the bottom to deter the gophers living on the property. We lined the garden beds with weed blocking fabric before pouring in the garden soil. I started with four beds which I quickly over planted that first year. All those tomato plants looked lonely so I planted them closer than recommended so I could fit in a couple more plants.
That first year I planted a lot of tomatoes in two of the beds. There were so many tomatoes it was an adventure getting in between the vines to pick the ripe ones. I planted zucchini and yellow squash in another bed. Apparently, I cannot grow zucchini. Squash bugs had a tasty feast before the zucchini could get established. In the last bed, I planted sweet peas. I was able to get just enough for a snack once in a while.
The tomatoes did relatively well while they were getting watered by the automatic sprinklers. I never came close to my goal to have enough tomatoes to can for the winter. We were able to have tomatoes available as needed instead of making a trip to the grocery store. Saving a little money by staying out of the grocery store is always a win.