Winter Prep on the Homestead

Fall is here and winter is coming fast! We are getting down in the 30’s at night so that means it is about time we got the wood stove installed, skirt the tiny home, collect fire wood, plan our water supply and grey water filtration, and prep our animal’s winter supply of food, bedding, and water. We have heard rumors of last winter getting down to -30 degrees! That said, we are doing everything we can to ensure a smooth, stress-free, and warm winter.

The Wood Stove & Fire Wood:

This past week we installed the wood stove since the temperatures have been dropping. I am so proud of Grant for his homemade wood stove project. His vision came to life and is working spectacularly! First, he researched the best designs for wood stoves with an oven and cooktop. He read Design Principles of the Wood Burning Cook Stove which provided him insight into the most efficient stove design.  Then, with free materials (two different size hot water heaters that were being replaced), some scrap 1/8″ thick plate steel, and a welder he got to work building his first wood burning stove. We have cooked multiple meals in it already and it has been cooking to perfection! In order to get the oven to 350-400 degrees the fire has to be raging pretty good which takes about three logs. Heating up the fire for cooking  makes the tiny house about 75-80 degrees so we have to open the windows and door to cool off a little. I am happy to know we will be plenty warm this winter though!

We started “Firewood Friday” to keep us on track to collect the four cords we need to be prepared for winter. We currently have two cords so we are half way there! What a workout hauling firewood is though! My goodness! I got my 10,000 steps in walking firewood from the woods to the truck and my biceps were feeling it! We only collect wood that has fallen or someone cut and left unused. There is PLENTY of recent deadfall to choose from without having to cut down live trees. We have found it easier to keep the logs in 8′ lengths and cut them down when we get home. It is less trips back and forth in the woods. Also, we put a piece of plywood down when we cut the logs to firewood length so that we can collect the saw dust for our composting toilet.

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Skirting the Tiny House:

Unlike a conventional home, tiny homes are elevated off the ground a couple of feet and will need to be enclosed for winter to help insulate and keep cold drafts out! Thankfully, our plumbing lines are ran internally so we will not have to worry about freezing pipes. We only did this after they froze last winter. 🙂 Sometimes you learn the hard way! We purchased 3″ foam board insulation and tin sheets for skirting. We are halfway done with this project. All that is left is cutting the insulation into strips and then gluing them to the tin sheets that are already in place. This space can be a breeding ground for mice and other vermin so we are showing our cats the awesome new hang out spot so they hopefully find endless meals and entertainment and keep any potential vermin problems to a minimum.

Water:

We are still working on the spring… we got distracted and we haven’t made a lot of progress recently. Grant plans to keep working on it until the ground freezes, but we have been graciously allowed to use water from a nearby well so we will be hauling water for the winter and transferring to our indoor 55 gallon tank week by week. The water won’t freeze inside our tiny home so no worries there!

Grey Water:

We currently have a five gallon bucket which we collect our sink and shower grey water in. We use all organic, biodegradable products so we have been giving this water to our apple trees. They are loving it and really doing well compared to how they looked on week one! The water is filtered through the thick layer of mulch covering the base of our trees and into the soil and roots.

Obviously, during the colder months a bucket of standing water will freeze so we have been brainstorming options without adding antifreeze or other nasty stuff to the water like some RV’s use in their grey water collection tanks. Our plan is to create a grey water pond. First, it will go through a filtration system consisting of large to small rock gravel, into a reed bed, and then into a pond. This will all be started at ground level and be dug down to 8 ft. deep. It will have a glass angled roof at, or a few feet above, ground level so this enclosed earth structure will also be a greenhouse. Light will come in through the roof so it will be important for us to clear the roof of snow. We just began digging so I will write a full post on that once it is completed.

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Livestock Needs:

The last key component to being prepared for winter is our animal’s feed, bedding, and water. We calculated our hay requirements for three sheep to be just over one ton which can range in price from $3-5/ bale. The weight of the bales varies but we want small rectangle bales that I can move so they are about 45-70 lbs. per bale. Hay should cost us $100-120/ ton. So for three sheep it will cost us a little over $150 for a winter supply of hay. It is on next week’s list to find the best deal and go pick up at least a ton of hay, if it will fit in one load with the truck and trailer! We are cutting all our own grass to pile up and store for the chicken coop. The chickens will appreciate a nice layer of grass straw to keep them warm throughout winter. It also helps keep the floor of the coop a bit cleaner. Lastly, without the ability to use an electric water bucket for the animals we are planning ahead for the best ways to keep water during the freezing months. I’ve found that if you use an old tire, stuff it with grass straw, and then put a black watering bowl inside the tire. This could be a new oil pan or any other bucket that fits inside the tire. The key is that it is black to help heat up in the sun. I have heard of using an old pop bottle with salt water in it or even ping pong balls to float in the water. Having something floating in the water will help deter freezing since there will be more movement. This will be an experiment and we will surely have to break out ice from the buckets most mornings, but hopefully this trick will help a little bit. If you have any tricks you know for keeping water from freezing in the winter please leave me a comment below! We know that being a few feet below ground level will help regulate temperature. We plan for our barn to be one story below ground so that we will not have to deal with freezing temperatures in the stalls of the barn.

Well, that covers our winter prep list. Fall is in full swing here on the homestead! We are dreaming of winter; me of warm tea and reading near the fire and Grant is dreaming of skiing down Vulcan Mountain. We love it here and are looking forward to the adventures winter has to bring.

 

 

 

 

Chick Chat: Backyard Buddies

Chickens, in my opinion, are one of the most fun and rewarding animals to interact with. They are creatures of habit so you can bet in the morning when you open the coop or shake some seeds about for a treat they will come running. They make me smile often so it is an easy source of happiness. Hens for the most part are friendly and if you raise them from chicks and hold them regularly they won’t be afraid of you when you want a little cuddle time. They may even enjoy being pet or sitting upon your shoulder. So, if you eat eggs (or chicken) in your home, consider this wonderful option.

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How Much Space Do Chickens Need?

Chickens take up very little space especially considering a household of four people probably wouldn’t need more than six laying hens, if that! The rules regarding coop space vary depending if they will be free range or in a fenced in run. We choose to free range which means less feed because they are able to forage more for bugs and wild seeds, etc. However, it is impossible to regulate what they eat when free ranging so it is likely you will deal with chicken crop issues but it is manageable! They will try to eat EVERYTHING! The decision to free range or keep in a run is just based on personal preference. If you don’t want chicken poop all over your yard or in your garage (if left open), then you’ll probably want  a run.

Each bird should be given two square feet per bird if they free range all day, every day and only use the coop for laying and sleeping. If it is a completely enclosed coop and run provide at least four square feet per bird in the coop and about 10 square feet per bird in the outdoor run.  Because they don’t require much space and the cost for starting is relatively low they are the PERFECT backyard addition in my opinion.

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Our first chicken coop, completely homemade from old lap board siding and various wood gathered from the property along with some old kitchen cabinets re-purposed into nest boxes. Equipped with a rain gutter for summer water collection.

A coop can be built DIY for dirt cheap with free wood off of Craigslist or your local newspaper. In big cities there are left over building materials constantly available for the taking. I can’t believe that stuff just gets thrown away! Go get free wood and start your coop today. There are tons of options pre-built (and expensive), but I think it is more fun to design and build it yourself. It forces you to learn what the birds like before you begin raising your backyard chickens. For example, they will want to roost at night in the HIGHEST possible point in the coop! You can get away with one nest box per every four to five hens. With our first batch of five laying hens four of them used the same box and we had four boxes for them to choose from!

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What Breed is Right For You?

There are a ton of different breeds of chickens to choose as well. I’m not going to list them all, but we have had the following breeds: Salmon Faverolle, Americauna, Black Australorp, Buff Orpington, California White, White Leghorn and now… assorted Bantams (not old enough to judge them yet).

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My favorite breed so far for temperament has to be the Buff Orpington and Black Australorp, but Buffy was my number one lady for sure. The two white layers: California White and White Leghorn were “production” breeds and they laid one to two eggs a day! They were machines! Beware if you get a really good layer breed you will have A LOT of eggs! If you are interested in birds for meat, there are breeds like Cornish Cross, Jersey Giant, and Freedom Rangers, along with many others. There are also dual-purpose birds like Orpingtons, Australorps, and more. Our preference is to have a variety of dual purpose birds. We don’t need too many excellent layers or too many “meat” birds. It is still hard for me to say chickens for meat as I have a hard time dealing with that process. However, I know that if I want to eat meat I need to know the reality of what that means. A friend turned me on to a book called “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan which follows the production process of four meals and the disgusting truth about the conditions and practices of large scale farming. If we all had our own backyard flock of chickens, there would be no need to purchase chicken or eggs from the grocery store. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned the ethics of large scale commercial production farming.

How Much Time and Money is Involved? 

Very little, if you set it up right! A large average brand 50 lb. bag of chicken feed from your local feed store will run you around $15. How fast you go through a bag completely depends on the situation. How many birds, breed of birds, run vs. free range, supplemental feed/ compost access, etc. are all questions you will need to keep in mind when planning your expenses. I would guess we picked up a bag every couple of months for our 6 chickens. A feeder and water bucket can be picked up at a local farm store for $15 each. Throw in a bag of various seeds as a treat for your little birdies and you are at about $60 to get started with adult hens. A rough estimate for 6 birds would be $20 every two months. If you are thinking about starting from day old chicks, see my previous post here. I would recommend searching for DIY chicken food and water set ups. There are some very inexpensive options made of things you can find in your home already! For example, a 1 gallon milk jug can be turned into a waterer or feeder. PVC pipe is used often for both as well. We used a 35 gallon brine tank from an old water softener and 3″ PVC 90 degree elbows to make a large feeder that we wouldn’t have to refill often. It stayed clean since the birds only had access to the small 3″ PVC hole to get to the feed.

Side note: They scratch their food out all over the ground if given the opportunity and it will be wasted!

 

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Homemade chicken water system with chicken nipples and a 1 gallon milk jug hung by twine. Feeder is hung to keep chickens from scratching the food all over the floor of the coop and wasting it!

 

We purchased what is called “chicken nipples” from the store, essentially just like a hamster or rabbit water bottle and screwed them into a PVC tube that connected to a separate 35 gallon brine tank filled with water from the gutter, in the summer. In the winter we had to use a heated water bucket. Stay tuned for this year’s winter watering system. We are still undecided. So, how much time should you expect to give to your adult laying hens? If you have an automatic feeder and waterer like I have stated where you know they will not dirty their water or food then the answer is 10 minutes tops. All they require is a greeting at the beginning and end of every day to open and close the coop and collect the bounty. Some even have automatic doors set on timers so all you have to do then is pick up eggs and clean the coop every once and awhile. In addition to collecting eggs and cleaning the coop, you can find them anytime you want by dispersing seeds and clucking like a chicken. 🙂 It is helpful to interactive with them to ensure they are healthy and the flock is getting along okay.

What Are The Benefits to Raising Your Own Chickens?

The obvious benefits include fresh eggs (and meat). The secondary benefits include a new interesting relationship you’ll come to know, love, and even crave! When we were without chickens for a few months after the majority of our flock was killed by predators we missed them everyday. We had gotten very used to our routine with them. It was a very sad experience and I still think of that flock (our first flock raised from day old chicks) and miss them dearly. The relationship comes from hanging outside with them, talking, and observing their behavior. It is some pretty great entertainment. They provide feathers, even the live birds, so collect them from the coop and you’ll be able to create beautiful meaningful art projects. The most important benefit is the chicken’s poop! Every time you clean out the coop collect it all into a wheel barrow and throw it in your compost heap. It will be great on the garden! They are also great end of season tillers. Once your fruits have fallen and you’ve collected your crop. Bring your chickens in to do the rest for you! They are a huge benefit to any home, not only farms. I highly recommend everyone raise their own backyard chickens. You will not be let down!

A Lesson in Patience

“Life has a way of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen at once.” – Unknown

Where do I begin… Grant has been gone so I am tending to the farm by myself while working a full-time job. It has proven challenging. Most of all I am learning that my wildest dreams and visions can’t come to fruition in a week, month, or even a year. There is just too much to do and why rush through it all? Well, things hit a head when Grant left and the sheep decided to go on a two day adventure around the neighborhood. Thankfully they were found in the neighbor’s driveway and returned to their pen eventually, but only after two nights out on their own. All of my energy went into looking for the sheep. I was spread too thin and very emotional about the loss of the sheep. I thought surely one night out of their pen would prove fatal. Thankfully I was wrong! While those couple of days were very difficult for me I learned some extremely valuable lessons and was able to build community in the process.

The first lesson I have learned since being here on the farm is patience. I have always struggled with patience, but now it affects more than just me when I rush. It affects the animals well-being also. One of my neighbors let me in on a little secret: add one thing at a time and perfect that one thing. Do not try to bring three different projects to life simultaneously. You will be spread too thin and none of the jobs will be done to your satisfaction. I have to admit I rushed into bringing sheep home because it was a special deal for a starter flock of this wonderful breed of dairy sheep that I didn’t think we would find again until next year. We don’t have the full 40 acres fenced in yet so the sheep are stuck in a modest 330 sq. ft. pen until we finish fencing, which is still larger than their pen at their prior home, but I think they need much more room to roam. In the meantime, I had to purchase hay to supplement their diet since their grazing is limited. I’ve also added a mineral block to their diet to help ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. They are now happy and comfortable. Not quite as happy as being free range, but it will work temporarily until the larger fence is completed!

Note: If your sheep are going to free range, you better have a shepherd with them!

There is no way to be prepared if you rush, especially with an animal that is new to you. I am completely new to sheep. There is a lot to know and I can’t learn it all overnight. What I have learned to do is spend time watching their behavior. I know their natural behavior is either to be eating or chewing their cud. They should be grazing most of the day so if they aren’t there is likely an issue. Also, if a sheep is off on it’s own that is a sign that something is up. They are herd animals and usually stick together in case of predators. It can be very costly to learn as you go. It is much more effective to learn about anything whether it be a build project or a new critter BEFORE starting or bringing an animal home.

Lastly, I learned how much I lean on Grant to get me going on certain things. That is a wonderful dynamic of ours. I can get him to STOP working and he can get me to START! I am completely capable of doing projects on my own. I know how to use power tools, build, etc. however, somehow when he is away I freeze up instead of taking the initial step. At least I recognize it, right? Well, the sheep ran off and silly me left the key in the ATV turned over so the battery died the night before. Once the sheep were gone I couldn’t chase them down easily. I drove around on the roads, but that didn’t provide a good enough view. They are so hard to spot in tall grass. I needed to jump the ATV. It took me a day to just DO IT! Dismantle the rack Grant made, take the seat off, and clip on the jumper cables. IT WAS THAT EASY! For some reason I was too frantic to think clearly. Grant has the ability to think quickly in pressuring situations. I’m so grateful to have him, however I am very thankful for this opportunity to learn what I alone am capable of. Many people said being alone up here for two weeks was crazy. I definitely had a couple of days of crazy, but things are looking up. Through all of the chaos of the past week I was able to meet quite a few people in my community and every single one of them has been so helpful and kind, offering to help me in any way they could. I am so excited to live in a place where people don’t rush or ignore one another, they wave, smile, and love to chat! I absolutely do not wish the sheep had run away, but I am very grateful for the awakening. I have been humbled, yet I also gained confidence as an individual. I knew before we moved up here this wasn’t going to be easy and that has tested us for sure. Even so, it has been empowering and rewarding to have to put in some effort to just live life every day. With patience and a little blood, sweat, and tears (a lot of tears) I can do anything. We all can. Things will always work out in the end…

Things Work Out

Poet: Edgar A. Guest

Because it rains when we wish it wouldn’t,
Because men do what they often shouldn’t,
Because crops fail, and plans go wrong-
Some of us grumble all day long.
But somehow, in spite of the care and doubt,
It seems at last that things work out.

Because we lose where we hoped to gain,
Because we suffer a little pain,
Because we must work when we’d like to play-
Some of us whimper along life’s way.
But somehow, as day always follows the night,
Most of our troubles work out all right.

Because we cannot forever smile,
Because we must trudge in the dust awhile,
Because we think that the way is long-
Some of us whimper that life’s all wrong.
But somehow we live and our sky grows bright,
And everything seems to work out all right.

So bend to your trouble and meet your care,
For the clouds must break, and the sky grow fair.
Let the rain come down, as it must and will,
But keep on working and hoping still.
For in spite of the grumblers who stand about,
Somehow, it seems, all things work out.