So You Call Yourself A Homesteader

Some days I am filled with doubts.  What the heck am I doing?  We don’t have a farm, we have a dozen chickens, bees, and a garden…woop-de-do.  And on top of that we are smack dab in the center of a town (an itty bitty blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town but a town none the less).  Who the heck am I fooling other than myself?  Who are we to assume the grand title of “Homesteader”?

Then I remind myself: Homesteading is in the eye of the beholder.

wannabe
Wrapping up evening chores with Oatmeal and Jake in tow.

So are you a homesteader?

You bloom where you are planted:
Maybe you are like us and the right place hasn’t come along. You are stuck in town or a city. But you till yourself a garden patch or you container garden anyway, and you do your best to keep your family full of freshly grown produce that you preserve for the winter months. What you can’t grow, you buy from local farmers who can, and you stock your freezer and your pantry with locally grown meat, fruit, and veggies while they are all in season. Doing your best to avoid the store for most things. You might even make your own noodles! If your town allows you may have some of your own chickens for eggs and meat and you could have bees, too. You strive to be self-sufficient. Playing around with goats milk soap recipes and researching beehives gives you a thrill. You are content with where you are or you wait and you save until you can buy your real dream farm.

Noodles Noodles Everywhere!

Our size doesn’t dictate our knowledge:
Whether you have a barn full of cattle, hogs, fowl, goats, or sheep, it doesn’t mean you know more than someone with one or two, and it certainly does not mean you know less. A lot of us have spent hours upon hours pouring over books and researching behaviors and methods. Some have years of experience from when we were kids growing up in 4-H and FFA . For example, someone can have an animal for a number of years without knowing or noticing certain issues exist while someone who only has a few can recognize an illness. While, sadly, others don’t know and some don’t care. We are dedicated to the health and well being of the animals we care for. Big or small, loss can be devastating and we all try to avoid it. Experience is worth its weight in gold, and us newbies can stand to learn a lot from all of you wise sages who have been at this business for years, but please remember, you were once a beginner too.

To homestead is to dream:
Maybe you have a place in the country and you have been doing this your whole life, but, let’s be honest, there are probably things you would still love to get into. Like adding that spinning flock, or perhaps a team of oxen, and you really want a couple nice tart cherry trees. Daydreaming is akin to breathing for us. Starting that orchard, expanding the garden … sunflowers? Ostriches! It is all so exciting and it makes us keep trucking along. We all hope to reach the breakeven point and eventually the magical time when the dream starts paying for itself. Until then, we sit on the porch snapping beans swigging a cold beer after a long day, and we enjoy what we have.

Just a few green beans…

You love what you do and you love to share it:
People who are truly happy with what they do can’t wait to share it with you. I’ve found myself sidling up to strangers to talk about bees. I get so excited when someone asks me a question I could just about burst! It makes me so happy to share the information I have stored up and my experiences, especially since I take a different approach than most folks do. Isn’t that what its all about anyway? To be happy doing the work that you love? If this life doesn’t make you happy, you need to find what does make you happy and go do it at some point. So go on and become a Master Gardener. Breed and show those fancy sheep. Get a booth at the farmers market. Smile!

Photo Courtesy: Lauren Hurd

Your Hobbies may make you sound like a granny:
Did you say spinning and knitting, deary? Yes, the desires to learn the old ways of doing things tend to come up and slap you in the dentures. My grandmother — “Newt” as we affectionately call her — is a wealth of knowledge. She was born on a farm in the 30’s, survived polio, and raised seven kids by herself. She is a tough ole bird. She taught us how to make bread from scratch from a recipe that isn’t written down anyplace, and we can make enough popcorn and molasses cookies to feed an army. Grandmas can be really helpful to have around. You oogle over fermentation crocks on the internet, dry and preserve herbs, and talk to butchers about lard. If someone says they have a tummy ache, you scurry over to your pantry to whip them up some obscure concoction. Hell, I even have a giant sun hat I wear in the garden, an apron for in the kitchen, and lord help me, I have developed a taste for beets … roasted not pickled … baby steps.

None of us do all of this because its easy:
Finally, trying to take the homestead approach is a long road rife with difficulties. From caring for livestock, gardening, and canning, living this life is hard work. Big time or small hobby or urban, we all have our heartaches and disasters along with our victories. Being self-sufficient is the end game, and it’s what we all hope for. The work pays off and you can taste it in the beef roast and vegetables with blueberry pie you make for dinner in mid-January. It won’t hurt to be a bit more supportive of each other regardless of what stage we are in.

In the end we all have the same goals in mind.

5 Tips To Avoid Poultry Remorse

Chickens are the first thing that come to peoples minds when planning out their dream homestead.  They seem like an easy first farm animal; they provide meat and eggs all in a compact package and they can be fairly inexpensive to keep.  But there is a little more work to them than meets the eye.  With the rise of homesteading popularity, and more cities allowing urban livestock within their limits its easy to jump in both feet first without spending some valuable time soul searching whether or not this lifestyle is for you.  In fact abandoned urban livestock is filling humane societies across the country.  A little bit of realism and research could save many animals from that fate, and it could save many homesteaders from feeling regretful of the feathery additions to their farms.

If you have never kept chickens before there are some things you will want to consider.

Kahrl The Blue Cochin

1. Choosing the right breed for your intentions.
I cannot put enough emphasis on researching the breed you want to keep. It could make all the difference in your chicken keeping experience. Consider the birds’ size, activity level, rate of maturity, rate of lay, and friendliness. You don’t want an active bird living in a confined space like a chicken tractor. Crazy birds = unhappy chicken keeper. And you may not be willing to wait a whole year before you get your first egg out of your Cochin pullet (like we did).  However, for my purposes I prefer Cochins, they aren’t the best laying hens in the world this much is true but for the most part they are content in their large run. Our Isa Brown hens on the other hand get out every. single. day. and head straight for the garden.  And they do this with clipped wings mind you.

The best resource I have found for poultry picking is the breed comparison chart on The American Livestock Conservancy website. You can print it off and check out breeds that fit into your chicken keeping goals.

2. Where will your chickens be living?
Choosing the appropriate home for your chickens falls in closely with what breed you pick. You want an easily accessible coop, dry, free from drafts, with sufficient roosting and nest boxes. You also will want to consider having an electrical outlet for the winter months when a water warmer will be necessary.

A note about chicken tractors: They have many benefits. But there are some flaws as well. The chickens have access to fresh grass every day. The run and coop provide a safe place to live. Tractors are easy to clean for the most part, the small size is the benefit here. The downside? You WILL have to move the tractor every day. This can get a little annoying and its not necessarily as easy as you think when its loaded down with chickens and water and food. It will be heavy and bulky and may not be easy for you to move by yourself. If you are in the market for a chicken tractor, go see it in person first and move it around a few times. Keep in mind how many chickens you want to keep too. Many say 14 bird capacity … but that’s for bantams, not standard chickens. There is also the option to build your own to your desired specs.

3. Choosing “Litter”.  There Will Be Poop:
Seriously … skip the pretty and fresh smelling pine shavings, the crushed corn cobs, and the straw. Go straight for the construction sand. It is cheap. You only need to refresh the sand once a year. Cleaning up is a snap. It really does take a whole two minuets of raking and sifting with a modified manure fork with ¼ inch hardware cloth zip tied to it, think of it like chicken kitty litter! Chickens don’t sleep on the floor. They poop on it. It dries quickly too. Sand cuts down on mold growth and moisture which can mean respiratory issues, and in the winter months frostbite and freezing birds.

4. Feeding on the cheap.
Besides your starter/layer ration it really helps to give your girls a chance to eat all the delicious bugs and veggies they can. Supervised free range them as much as you can, (yeah, supervised … chickens are tasty treats for hawks and other critters … they also have a tendency to get greased in the road) or if that isn’t an option, save your grass clippings and toss them into the run; they like to scratch through it and find bugs. Save your kitchen scraps, and send over those torpedo sized zucchini from the garden that you thought “just needed one more day.” We also like to fence off our garden every year after it is done producing to let the chickens clean things up for us. With 6 chickens during the spring and summer months we only need to buy 1 bag of feed every 5 weeks.

5. Brush up on Poultry Illnesses, how to treat wounds, and general poultry knowledge.

Poultry injuries are a gruesome fact of life.
This is a photo of one of the wounds our white Cochin pullet “Oatmeal”sustained from being attacked by a neighbors dog. She made a full recovery thankfully.

Be prepared for disasters. Have a chicken first aid kit ready. That way when your chicken gets viciously mauled by a rogue chihuahua you aren’t running to the farm store in a panic wearing your pj’s looking for the Vetericyn. The best resource by far is the blog “The Chicken Chick” by Kathy Shea Mormino. She has fantastic informational posts about any chicken thing you can dream. Her information has helped me save a dog chewed chicken and taught me how to treat mite infestations efficiently.

Here’s to happy chickens and happy chicken keepers! Good luck!

This Article Was Featured In GRIT Magazines Guide To Backyard Chickens Spring 2016 Edition & GRIT Magazines Guide To Chickens Premium Issue, Fall 2016

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