One Year!!! Building a Homestead Vs. Moving an Existing Homestead to a New Location

It has been a longer break than expected…but I am back at the computer, ready to share what has been going on.

From 2012-2021, we built our dream of a homestead on a small 3-acre property in the high-altitude Rockies. It was a lot of work, but realizing a dream usually is. Last summer, we moved that little dream homestead to a 30-acre property in the High Plains of Colorado. We knew moving a homestead to a new location would be a lot of work, but we figured it would be similar to the work we had put in for the last 9 years building our homestead. We were wrong – it is SO much more work!

Don’t get me wrong – we have been so blessed by this move and are loving our new, much larger, homestead, and all the opportunities the new space gives us. But we are so, so, so much busy-er than we expected. Thus, the absence from the blog.

When we built our previous homestead, for the most part, we added things one-at-a-time and were able to do the work maintaining what we had while adding the new project in – generally one new project at a time. This new property had some infrastructure – buildings, fences, etc. Which have been very helpful and we are very grateful for what it came with. But most of it is not set up in a way that works for the livestock we have and the way we like to manage the livestock. So, while we are trying to maintain what we already have (the daily chores of feeding, watering, cleaning, milking, weeding, repairing damage to buildings and fences), plus spring birthing/hatching season and all the extra work that brings, not to mention life outside of the farm, we are also trying to build infrastructure that works for our animals and how we like to manage them and build vegetable and fruit growing infrastructure and get gardens going. And it is not a one-project-at-a-time thing as we add new aspects like it was when we originally built our little homestead. Everything is at the top of the priority list fighting for its spot and everything needs to be done right now (well really, yesterday) because we already have all the livestock and they need what they need. Add to that learning a new climate and environment, and learning how to help reverse the damage that this property has sustained to its soil and ecosystem. Oh, and don’t forget the fact that we moved a large family into a small house and have needed to find and make ways to manage human housing as well. And…well folks…there just are not enough hours in the day.

We are so excited and hopeful about this new adventure. And that helps us face the exhaustion and days where we just feel so very overwhelmed. And doing this all together as a family makes it fun and unites us in new ways as well. It is fun brainstorming together when we need to solve a problem or are dreaming about a new something. Everyone is so creative and has great ideas on how to accomplish things. We are very happy and surprised at how much we have accomplished in just one year…even with a to-do list that never ends. So it is good – but not easy. Long days, short years.

As we are celebrating one year at our new farm, I thought I would make some time to jump online and give a blog update on what is going on around here. There is so much it is going to be a long post, just talking about what is going on outdoors, let alone indoors. So I will keep this one to just the outdoors.

Hoof Stock

The sheep and goats had a very productive birthing season. They birthed 19 babies (5 goat kids and 14 lambs) – which is a very large amount for us considering our average year before was about 4-5 babies with our biggest year before this being 9 babies. We had our first (and second) set of triplet lambs ever born on our farm. We also had a set of triplet goat kids. Three sets of triplets! We were also very blessed in that every single ewe and doe got pregnant and gave birth except the smallest ewe lamb from last year. We did not expect any of the ewe lambs from last year to get pregnant, but they all did except one. All of the lambs and kids survived and are thriving well.

We have been continuing to improve and build more fencing for the hoof stock pastures and pens and have also been building some more shelter for them. Ultimately, we need a nice big barn, but that is down the road a bit, so for now we are working to make sure they have adequate housing for what we need in the moment.

We are continuing to work on intensive grazing the ewes and lambs to bring life back to our soil (we don’t have the infrastructure to get the rams out on pasture yet). We are able to graze them on small sections of about 1/3 of our property by using electronet fencing. We are working on building a moveable shelter, which will bring that area up to more than half the property that will be able to be intensively grazed by them in small grazing portions. The pasture is very fragile, especially due to the windy, dry spring we had. It is all much shorter than it was this time last year. So we are being careful to move the sheep as needed to not over-graze it.

We are utilizing the fact that goats can be staked-out to graze some of the areas that are unreachable by the ewes and lambs with the two adult does. The area that they are on was grazed by the ducks last year, and as you can see (in photo below) it is in much better shape than the pastures (in photo above). So the grazing we did of the ducks last year really added a lot of nutrition to the soil and helped it along. Someday, we hope the whole property will be healthy and green.

Ducks

We have the ducks out grazing again this year. We are using the duck tractors we built last year, along with electronet poultry fencing.

We only have some grazing right now. One hen hatched two ducklings for us earlier this spring. It was her first time and she made a few mistakes, thus ending with just two ducklings, but I am sure that the experience will help her do better next time.

We were not set up for duck setting and brooding when she decided she wanted to set. So she set and hatched in a big plastic dog crate. Which worked fine, but we were wanting something more permanent for duck setting and brooding. We have since then been able to build a little broody duck house and pen from some building scraps we had around the farm. Another one of those infrastructure things we needed to do that I was discussing above.

We have another Muscovy hen setting now. She decided to set in the corner of the duck coop, so we left her there. The other hens are leaving her alone and letting her do her thing.

We decided to set up the incubator inside with some duck eggs in it to supplement for loss. We also have a hen setting, and I set up the second incubator with some eggs to supplement her hatch as well. So we have two incubators going right now.

Chickens

As I said, we have a hen setting – our ten-year-old Silkie hen, Eve. She has set and hatched 1-3 clutches for us every year since she started laying. She is an excellent broody hen and we are so glad we have her. She is small and can only sit on 6 standard eggs. But she can easily raise 10-12 chicks, especially in the warmer summer weather. So we have the back-up eggs in the incubator to increase the hatch and give her plenty to raise for us.

We don’t like free-ranging our chickens for several reasons. BUT we do like putting our chickens to work and giving them nutrition similar to free-ranging. We like to have our chickens live in our barnyards and stalls and work through all the compost and stall waste, eating bugs, grubs, seeds, etc. It keeps the stalls free from maggots in the deep bedding and helps our compost become black gold much faster. The new farm was not set up in a way for us to keep our chickens in the barnyards like we like to. We were able to build a coop and pen for the standard size chickens last fall that made it possible for us to dump the compost into their pen so they could work through it.

That has been working great. We clean out the stalls and dump it in there and we bring all the kitchen and garden scraps to it as well. They dig through it and work it. We pile it back up, they dig back through it, repeat…until after about a month or so it is pretty well broken down and then it goes into the “more composted” compost pile and we bring them a new load to work through. It keeps our feed bills down in that they eat a lot less when they have compost to work through. It is physically and mentally healthy for them. And it creates compost for the garden faster than when we just pile it all up.

But we ultimately want to get chickens living in each of our barns and barnyards with the hoof stock. The bantam hens have been living in a little backyard-type coop and haven’t been able to free range or even work compost since we moved here. It was fine for the winter, but we were really happy to get them set up to live out in the ewe barn so they can dig through those stalls and have a better diet and mental stimulation. We just built a little coop and hooked it to the fence.

They seem very happy with their new set up. They have a ton of space compared to the little backyard coop they lived in all winter. And all the bugs, grubs, seeds, etc that they can find.

Guineas

Last summer we got Guinea keets in hopes that when they grew up they would keep the snakes backed off from the house and barn areas. We had a lot of rattlesnakes last year and wanted a natural solution to the issue. We had heard Guinea hens would help keep snakes away and we were very excited to try it out.

Thus far it seems to be working. We have only seen two snakes (both bull snakes) and they both were way out away from the buildings and main housing area. So, it seems that the guineas really do help keep snakes at bay.

Gardens

Gardening at the new property has probably been the biggest challenge of everything we have done so far. We had the “windiest spring on record since 1981” and no rain. We had day-after-day of wind for weeks. We had 40-60mph sustained wind all from one direction for hours on end. It wreaked havoc on our seedlings, any seeds we planted, and our season-extending tents and WOWs. It was a rough spring for the garden.

The wind has finally calmed down, and we have gotten some rain in the last three weeks or so. Many seedlings died, hundreds of seeds never sprouted or died as tiny sprouts. But, some seedlings have survived, some were not out in the garden yet at the time of all the wind, and some seeds are finally starting to sprout. It seems like everything is way behind where it should be, but such is life.

We did not have the resources last fall to build the raised-bed main veggie garden that we plan to build. So we decided to use straw bales this year, giving us time to gather more resources and creating a foundation of decomposing straw for next year’s raised bed garden. The straw bale garden suffered the worst with the wind. Some stuff is starting to come back and we are nursing it along, but it has not done great so far.

We have also been plagued by mushrooms. The straw bale method book talked about mushrooms coming as part of the composting process, but made it out to be a one week or so and then they will be gone type of thing. We have been dealing with mushrooms for over a month and it looks to not be ending any time soon. They uproot the seedlings and push out the seeds we plant before they can sprout. Frustrating.

It is still early in the season. We are grateful for a much longer growing season than we used to have in the mountains. There is time for the wind-wrecked stuff to recover and produce. And we are hopeful it will.

The container gardens are doing much better than the straw bale garden thus far. The container gardens include planted containers we brought from the old homestead here, containers we built and planted last year, and some containers/raised garden beds that were already here when we moved in. We amended the soil in them, built them up or repaired them, and have been using them.

Most of the containers are kitchen and medicinal herbs. But there are also some fruits and veggies in them. We have harvested and enjoyed chives, rhubarb, garlic scapes, and peas already from the container gardens.

Garlic Scapes

The apple tree and some strawberries survived the winter. But then they were killed by the winds. The gooseberry bushes look to also have been killed by the wind – but it is unclear on those. Such a bummer. We hope to add more fruit trees and bushes in the future. But for now, there is enough on the list to get to that fruits will have to wait.

Overall, a very productive and very busy spring. We are learning, expanding, and enjoying the new farm.

Sunday Homestead Update – Poultry

It seems all the updates involve poultry today. A lot going on with the birds around here.

Duck Dilemma

As I said a few weeks ago, we are having issues with the duck area because it won’t drain and has become a huge ice slick of water and duck droppings. The permanent fix will have to wait until spring when everything is thawed. But for now, we figured out a solution and were able to get it cleaned up temporarily. We waited for a somewhat warm day (40F), and we ran a hose from the commercial water heater we use in the mill out to the duck pen. We spent quite a bit of time using the very hot water to melt all the ice and frozen droppings, while also creating a way for all that hot water and melted gunk to drain out and away from the pen. Once it was all melted and running away, we did kind of a ”power wash” with the hose to remove all the droppings from the gravel and drain it all away too. We were left with a nice clean pen and 95% of the water dried or drained before evening when it froze again, leaving only a couple slick spots. We will repeat this procedure as needed this winter until we can fix the pen next spring/summer to make it work better for the ducks in the winter.

It feels a lot better to have them living in clean outdoor conditions (their indoor conditions were always clean).

Mystery Egg

We found a mystery egg. It was outside of the chicken and duck pens and thus could only have been laid by a free-ranging bird or a wild bird. The guineas free range, but from what I have read they are very seasonal in their laying and shouldn’t start up until March. We have never seen a guinea egg before because they weren’t mature enough to lay last year, but they supposedly have brown speckles, which this does not have. But the egg is way too big to be a wild bird – we have never seen any wild ground-dwelling birds on the property. And it is definitely tucked away like a ground-nesting bird. So it must be the guineas? Whose egg is this? We might never know.

The guineas have been staying close to their coop with all the cold and snow. Although the egg was laid on one of the warmer days, and they did go farther from home that day.

Here they are tucking in due to the wind. Poor Dino, the outcast, is, as always, on the outskirts of the group. The kids have noticed Dino doing some things that lead them to believe he (or she) might be mentally impaired. Maybe that is why they keep him out of the group. I guess we are lucky they haven’t killed him and instead just keep him three feet away at all times. I feel so bad for him though.

The guineas are having some issues with their feet. We caught them and examined them the other night in the coop because as they were free ranging we saw one limping and noticed a couple others whose feet looked different. Three of them had what looked like healing wounds But it was unclear what the wounds are. Frostbite? Goat heads? We have a ton of goat heads all over the property (puncture vine). The guineas can’t go three steps without getting one in their feet unless they stay on the roads and pathways, which they don’t. We constantly see them stopping to pull them out. We are wondering if the injuries are long-term exposure to constantly getting goat heads in their feet? There is really nothing to be done about it. None of their feet looked infected. And only one foot on one of the guineas seemed sore. So we will keep and eye on the situation and see what happens.

Chickens at Work

We did some cleaning this last week. We took a bunch of the compost the chickens have been working through for us out of their pen, and then cleaned out one of the deep bedded sheep stalls and gave them some more stuff to work through. We noticed quite a lot of fly eggs in it, so it will be good to let them take care of that. Letting them work our compost for us works so well. They create the black gold we are looking for much faster than we do when we just pile it up and maintain it ourselves.

The guineas seemed a bit jealous that the chickens got the good stuff. Although we did see the guineas working on the big compost heap earlier that day.

Sky Paintings and Mountains

The sky and mountains have been showing off a lot lately. My camera never does the real thing justice, but it is a start. We really love the views we get here.

Clean Duck Water for Winter

Since we drained the duck pond for the winter, we have been looking for solutions for how to give the ducks enough clean water that they can dunk their heads and can drink, but can’t climb into it and make it a huge mess trying to use it as a pond. Also, we needed something they couldn’t spill over. And something that was either heated, or small enough we could easily refill it 1-2 times a day as needed before it froze solid. A tall order. We didn’t find anything that looked promising during our search on the net. But as we were working in the ewe barn we came up with a plan that is working great.

We use these hanging feeders for our sheep jugs (small birthing stalls) to hold water, hooked to the fence, when the sheep are living in the jug with their lambs. We realized that if we could hook this low enough in the duck pen it would be the perfect solution to the duck water issue. It is deep enough they can dunk their heads, but not so tall that they can’t reach in. And it is too narrow for them to try to get into it to swim. And with it hooked to the wall, they can’t tip it over.

Daniel simply used a few pieces of scrap wood to make a holder we can slip the hooks over.

It has been working great! We have been able to refill it time a day without major freezing issues. And the ducks are getting the water they need.

We are very happy to have found a workable, clean option for winter duck water.

Sunday Homestead Update – Problem Solving and An Old Friend Returns

Homesteading involves a lot of problem solving. This week we are faced with a duck-related problem solving dilemma. The area that we made into the duck coop and pen used to just be a shed with an area behind it full of gravel and weeds. We fenced in the area to make it a pen, planning to expand it in the future when we had time. The weeds were eaten, leaving a gravel area with sand underneath. We figured this would drain fine (ducks are very messy with their pond water) and it would not be an issue. We were wrong. Not only is it not draining, but the build-up of duck waste is creating a kind of seal that is letting it drain less and less. Due to the gravel, we can’t shovel out the duck waste. With the cold weather we can’t hose it away. AND, it is now freezing, melting, refreezing and becoming quite a huge wreck of water, ice, and duck poo. We are not using the “pond” anymore, just giving them a dish of water. But it is still such a mess out there. It is not a good, healthy living situation for them.

Granted, they can get inside a plenty-large coop that is bedded with nice dry shavings and cleaned regularly. But still, we don’t like our animals living in their own waste, frozen or not, indoor clean option or not. So we need an answer.

We have not come up with one yet. We will probably try some things this week and see if we can make any progress. Any of you dealt with this type of issue before? Ideas are welcome in the comment section.

An Old Friend

We have lived in a lot of different homes in our 22 years of marriage. And every single one of them had wood heat via either a fireplace, an insert, or a free-standing wood stove. There is something wonderful about heating with wood. And with the fact that Daniel has always had requests to cut down pine-beetle diseased trees for friends and family, we have never lacked for firewood. And wood heat is available no matter if the power goes out, or the furnace breaks down, etc.

When we moved to the new farm in the High Plains the house just had forced air. We knew we wanted to add a wood stove at some point, but it took some time to figure out where to put it and such. Our furnace has not been doing a good job of heating the house as this cold weather hit. It is the wrong type of furnace for our house, and is undersized, so on the really cold nights it is running constantly and the house is still cold. It also broke down twice already, leaving us without heat for one night the first time and three nights the second time. Time to figure out that wood stove situation!

I was gifted a beautiful, antique, 1907 Majestic wood cook stove many years ago, and we had installed it in our previous home and used it to heat the house. I absolutely love it and when we decided to sell there was no way I would sell it with the house. You can’t find one of these just anywhere – it is pretty much irreplaceable. So, we brought it with us. We installed it this weekend and we are all SO excited to have it back in the house again. It is like having an old friend from our past come back and join us at the new farm. Lots of smiles over this one.

There is still some trim work and such to do in this area. And I need to unpack all my wood stove accessories and get them set up. But it is heating the house now and we are super happy about it.

Sunday Homestead Update – New Year

Our year started with our first snow and very cold weather. We got about 3 inches of snow and temps down to -12F, with our high yesterday only in the teens. Brrrrr, a cold start to the new year, but it felt very past due with how warm and dry it has been this fall and winter.

Goals and Planning

We are getting back into routine life after the holidays. We like routine, although we enjoyed the time away from it as well. Our minds have shifted into planning mode as we face a new year at the new farm. We have so many visions and dreams for the place. There are so many things we want to do. We are working to prioritize and break it down so we don’t bite off too big of a piece. We need to be realistic about what we can handle and use our resources wisely. It can be hard to say that certain things will just have to wait, but if we spread ourselves too thin we won’t accomplish anything well and will end up with a bunch of half done projects.

So we have focused our plans on a few certain things for this year:

#1 Do well at managing what we already have. Keep working at our selective breeding, and keep all the animals healthy and productive. Continue to use the animals to feed our family with eggs, milk, and meat from our own farm.

#2 Continue to work at the intensive grazing and restorative agriculture plans with the hoofstock and poultry to improve the pastures.

#3 Make improvements to the animal housing, fencing, and human housing. We have a specific list of what projects we are taking on this year as far as this goes.

#4 Get the first vegetable garden built, planted, and producing (spring) and the second one fenced and start building it (fall).

#5 Add a few fruit trees and berry bushes.

#6 If possible after doing the above list, add heritage turkeys.

We were really hoping to add bees to the farm this spring, as well as raise a flock of meat-breed sheep from weaning to butcher, but those were a few of the things that had to be cut from the list and put on hold.

Poultry

This was the first snow and major cold for the guinea fowl and ducks. The guineas were very much not impressed. They decided to spend their day in the coop, warm and snug. Except first they kicked out the outcast.

As I have said before, there is one outcast guinea that is constantly a few feet from the flock. They won’t allow him (not sure if it is a girl or boy) to be with them. We don’t know enough about guinea behavior to know why. But since he is the only one we can tell apart from the others, due to the fact that he is constantly outside the group, we gave him a name. We call him Dino because he looks a little like a dinosaur because the feathers on his back are always ruffled up kind of like spikes. It seems to be because of the body posture he constantly keeps, as the outcast.

Anyway, they kicked Dino out of the coop. So Dino flew up on top of the coop and roosted there. By noon it was still only 10F, and Dino was still alone on the metal roof. So we decided to chase him in and close them all in for the day because we were worried Dino would freeze and die out in the elements alone. As we learned back when we first started free ranging the guineas…the only thing harder to herd than a group of guineas is a single guinea. A half hour later, and four freezing and frustrated humans finally got him in and closed the door. I guess we will learn from this and just keep the guineas indoors in inclement weather.

The ducks are also less than impressed with the weather. They came out, drank from their pond (we had a de-icer in it) and promptly went in to spend the rest rest of the day cozy inside.

Garden

We finished the year off by getting started on construction of the new garden. We got all the fence posts in, thanks to our neighbor bringing his tractor auger over for us. We wanted to get those done before the ground froze and made it impossible.

January Kitchen Project

Before we moved into the house, back in May, the girls and I gave the whole place a good scrub down. But we found that trying to clean the cabinets in the kitchen was nearly impossible. They had that build-up of greasy dust gunk that happens in a kitchen. You know, the stuff you find on top of your fridge if you don’t wipe it regularly. Plus just basic yucky dirt build-up around the handles etc. We tried a couple different cleaners, but it seemed that whatever we tried just made it sticky-er. We needed a major de-greaser to get the job done. But we were limited on time and couldn’t do it before the move. Then life went crazy busy. So, while it has been clean enough to be useable, it has been in the back of my head that I needed to really scrub and de-grease the cabinets and drawer fronts at some point.

The time has now come and I am making it my goal to do all of the kitchen by the end of January. I am doing it in small chunks so as not to overwhelm myself and so I can continue to focus on homeschooling and basic life (cooking, cleaning, etc). Daniel is taking the doors off for me, a couple at a time, in the morning before he leaves for work. When I have time during the day (or over a couple of days), I remove the handles and hinges, then give them a major scrubbing with degreaser (being careful not to overdo it and accidentally remove the finish on the cabinet), and then once they are dry they go back up.

I have been shocked to see the difference it makes. The small section I did last week looks almost brand new! It will be a tedious project, but will definitely pay-off in the end.