As 2013 comes to a close, I find myself doing the inevitable – Reflecting on this past year.
Isn’t that what you do too? Think back on what you enjoyed about your year? About what didn’t go so well? What you have learned?
After chatting it up with my husband, I think we agreed on most of these. Ready for what WE learned?
The first year is the most expensive year. When we started our homesteading journey this past year, we were truly “starting from scratch”. Although we moved into a home with acreage, it was not animal-ready. Our list of expenses (not all-inclusive) included fencing for two of the acres, a large outbuilding, supplies to build a large mobile chicken coop, materials to enclose our garden, etc. And just when you think you have purchased everything you need for that particular project, you will will no doubt have at least one extra trip into town for that one item you forgot. Oh, and we can’t forget the farmies! We purchased twenty-something chicks, two sheep, two cows, and LOTS of feed! Thank goodness we were fortunate enough to get our two goats for free!
When you research your brains out and think you will be doing it the right way, the first time – you will be often wrong. In the year and a half before we moved onto our property, I researched like crazy, telling myself that when we finally get to the point of “doing it”, we will be able to do right the first time. HA! Pfft! Right! What usually happened, was me telling my husband how we should do it, in order to be ready for any and every road block that might come up – Let me tell you: In this case, my way was NOT the practical thing to do. My husband would then tell me that we can always tweak it later, which of course I argued about. Hmph. Guess what? He was right. We really had NO IDEA what we were doing – We HAD to make mistakes in order to learn. I really gotta listen to him more often… 😉
Fencing is a pain. In the ass. And the hands. And the back. Ah, fencing… Such a love/hate relationship. It is so necessary here on the farmstead, but SO MUCH WORK! I really had no idea what we were getting into when we went out to purchase those large rolls of fencing and the truckload of t-posts. Oh. Lord. The good news is, the big work is now done. We can expand later, or patch here and there, and it still shouldn’t be as bad as that first time. I also then realized that we don’t just have “rocky” soil here. We have freakin’ boulders. Yes, boulders. Boulders that would bend our t-posts when we tried to pound them in. Lord, Lord, Lord…
Don’t put (almost) all your focus on one crop. Like tomatoes. When my first package of seeds showed up in the mail last winter, I was dang giddy. “This is the year,” I said to myself, “that I will succeed in growing seedlings!” (Please envision my fist raised to the sky, with a regal voice – Because that’s what was happening. Really.) Oh, my seedlings flourished! I was most excited about the tomatoes – sweet cherry tomatoes, gorgeous heirlooms, juicy romas, and on and on… I admit it. I did more tomatoes than maybe necessary. But oh, the plans I had for them! Then came the torrential rain. Followed by black rot. All of them. The end.
*Side note: I didn’t ONLY grow tomatoes. I just MOSTLY grew tomatoes. And harvested zero of them.
Be prepared for changes in weather – COLD changes. So, November hit and things had been fairly mild here in our part of Washington. The animals still had tons of area to forage, water never freezing, barely a speck of frost on the ground. Then we left town for two nights, leaving the farmstead in the capable hands of my sister. Apparently when you leave town and you are not prepared for freezing temperatures, THAT is when things get really cold. Like low 20’s, high teen’s cold. I came home to solid water troughs and long mornings of hauling heavy buckets of hot water out to melt them. And would you guess that it took me at least a week of this before I buckled down and bought tank de-icers. Oh, and one more thing. I didn’t drain my water hose either. So we ended up with a busted water spigot as well. Sheesh.
If you are going to free-range your chickens, you should be prepared to lose a few – predators are inevitable. Not really sure if this is a lesson-learned, because we were expecting to lose some chickens to predators. However, the only predators have been airborne ones – hawks and eagles. On a positive note, out of 24 chickens, we have only lost two to prey. And apparently the predators here prefer our Barred Rocks. Go figure. Maybe they’re a bit slower? And another note: the Americaunas are quite speedy. So theoretically, they are pretty safe. With only two chickens gone, I’m gonna just count this as a success here.
Goats will do anything and everything to get to food. Specifically chicken food. We have found that the most important thing is to determine who is hanging out in the same pasture. We do NOT have designated pastures for each breed of animals here. Currently, we have the goats and chickens on one side, and the ducks, cow, and sheep on the other. If you have a dominant goat, be prepared to work to make sure the other goat gets food. Dominant goat = greedy goat. Also, no matter how small you make the opening to the chicken coop, a goat head will still find it’s way in there. If we made this opening any smaller, Doris (the rooster) would not be able to get in. Be careful when carrying food out to them – given the chance, they will take you down to get to it. But on a positive note, everyone told us that the goats will wreak havoc on our fences – and they could care less about them.
Starting the farmstead was the best decision. Ever. The work is hard and never-ending. There is more trouble-shooting to be done than I have EVER dealt with. But I am filled with such immense happiness whenever I wake up and look out at our pasture, whenever I feed our animals, when I cook up fresh eggs for my family, and whenever I am driving back home from being out. The best part of it? Having my husband next to me, living the same dream, enjoying it just as much as I. It is so incredibly rewarding and satisfying. And just so…. RIGHT. This is what we should be doing.
My homesteading friends have learned lots this year too – Make sure you head over and see what happened on their homesteads this year…
What did 2013 bring YOU? Tell me what you’ve learned!