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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.