Before we moved here, the chicken coop’s prior life was as a tool shed and workshop. It is 15×10 with a window across from the heavy door. Doug stapled wire fencing over the window to keep predators out and chickens in. No raccoon can open that door in the wee hours of night for chicken snacks. Rafters and shelves allow the chickens to roost. It makes an ideal coop.
It is surrounded by dog panel fencing so that we can keep them confined near their coop if we are leaving or if there is risk of predators. That opens into a huge pasture for them to free range and find bugs and accept bread thrown over from the neighbor’s balcony.
It was painted blue to match the house. That must have been some years ago, because the ply-board and planks had begun to show through the chipped and faded paint. I went out one early spring day and began to paint it orange. It was not the shade I intended and I ran out of paint three sides in, so it has sat, a horrid orange and faded blue exterior with chipped paint gables, for months.
I have the most fabulous wwoofer at the moment. You shall get to know Annie and her lively spirit over the next few weeks. She helped me paint yesterday. The goats assisted, as goats love to do, and we totally transformed the derelict looking coop into a gorgeous outbuilding. The goats are now the same color as the coop.
The chickens approve of their new haven. It is easy enough to transform and freshen any building or wall. Just grab a goat or two and a brush. We even freshened up the farm sign while we were at it!
There is no doubt that this has been a very stressful time for most of us for many different reasons. Now, we can only handle so much stress and attempts to control things out of our hands. It’s time we leave the craziness and get back to farming. I have lots of things to show you and farming and gardening techniques to teach you, and such, but on this lovely spring day, I thought I would show you some images of my farm. We have been busy around here the past few weeks.
The last two homesteading books that I have read were great to read because they outlined clear and practical guides to subsistence farming and homesteading without the use of animals. In the books, Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self Reliant Gardening and Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life, the authors are/were all vegan and I appreciated reading books where the authors were successful and offered approaches that I have, and will continue, to utilize on my own homestead. To continue taking the cruelty out of agriculture.
There was only one thing missing from the books. Because the authors did not use animals on their homestead and were vegan themselves, they saw no reason to keep animals at all, not even dogs and cats. Valuable resources wasted on animals and keeping animals just to do so seemed unnecessary. Have you ever walked into someone’s home and it’s really eerily quiet and clean? And then you notice what’s missing? No dogs, no cats, not even a parakeet? To us, animals make a homestead a home as much as each other’s company. Animals add so much joy to our lives.
Each year that we tick off as another that we have homesteaded, we make our own way. We learn from others, we experiment, we make lots of mistakes, we make heartbreaking decisions, and we move forward creating the life that is best for us. I considered starting a non-profit animal sanctuary but I decided against it for a few reasons. I have many friends that have sanctuaries. 1) They have a lot more land than I do and I would be very limited as to whom I could take. 2) My friends have to hustle for donations constantly. 3) People are really cruel. They call these sanctuaries and make threats about what will happen to the animals if the sanctuary doesn’t take them. No thanks. I wouldn’t be able to handle it. And 4) These are pets to us. Our past goats and sheep followed us around our farm just like little puppies. We enjoyed them so much and will not be giving up ones to come. We want to adopt a few bottle babies. Raise a few chicks and ducklings from birth. Just as we go to the shelter and choose kittens that need us most. We bring in animals young and slowly so that everyone adapts well. And then they live here their whole life and are loved ridiculously well. That is our sanctuary.
The farm animals might contribute by donating their wool (they are getting sheared anyway), their eggs (they just walk away from them anyway), and their antics. We make sure we make enough money to take care of them, just like our indoor animals. But there is no cruelty here, no using animals for meat or dairy. Some people watch cable television, some people like fancy cars, we like to watch animals play. It is worth the money.
The other animals that we welcome are of the wild sort. I have a good bird guide near the office window and provide bird seed for the many wild birds that visit. We see traces of deer that came through in the night. Foxes live over the hill. Hawks float above the trees. Our Great Pyrenees keeps everyone safe on the ground from behind his fences. I enjoy the world so much better surrounded with animals.
A homestead does not have to use animals for food. A homestead is more of a home with animals as family. There is more than one way to homestead and farm successfully. Find your path and find your joy.
The wood stove comes alive, savage and hot. The whirl of orange and red feel so comforting, so primal, so homelike. The living room will be warm soon. I prepare my coffee and watch through the picture window as the sky slowly begins to lighten with dawn. A new day is upon us.
The kitten walked by me on a mission, head focused, tail out, looking to murder a hair tie or catnip mouse. As she passed, I made kissy sounds towards her, which made her tail flutter straight up as she gave me a cute sideways glance, all sass and adorableness. Life with cats is lovely.
One of my favorite sounds in all this beautiful world is the calling of geese. I hear them before I see them, then watch them, uniform and village-like floating overhead in a hurry to get to their vacation home. Then I hear them later in reverse passage, all chattering noisily. So much to say as their caravan marches back across the skies. They sound like home, like season’s changing, like joy.
The three day weekend of fair weather helped us get some projects finally finished on the homestead. Field fencing is complete, leading from what will be one of my huge gardens and the back porch to nearly a third of an acre section for my fluff of a Great Pyrenees and his future charges. The gate is open, freedom is granted to Gandalf, and he laid back down. “Maybe he thinks he will get in trouble!” our daughter, Shyanne, speculated. He is quite happy on the couch on the porch and has no desire to be gallivanting around open pastures. He is only two, not an old man in the least. We always get the odd ones around here.
She is blind and runs into doors and leans against my leg. She was supposedly one years old when she was brought to me, but I know very few animals with cataracts at the age of one. How old is this chicken? I wonder. It matters not, for she is the sweetest feathered girl. Our granddaughter, Maryjane, flits out to the coop. “Good morning!” she sings to the chickens, “Good morning, Heihei!” I pick our docile chicken up and hand her to my beautiful farmgirl. Heihei snuggles into her coat and is content. Each one of our chickens has a vastly different personality than the others. We have Yogi, who believes herself to be a rooster. We have Esther, the quintessential pretty snob. And Eloise, who is quite sassy, but not so much right now, as she is molting and looks like a decrepit turkey. Our one year old granddaughter sees a lovely blue egg in the coop, grabs it, and will not let it go.
The oil lamps are cleaned with fresh wicks and are ready to fill. A half finished baby blanket is attached to the yarn weasel waiting for another skein. A few loads of wood ought to be brought in today. Granola bars, vegan cream cheese, and burger buns will be made in the homestead kitchen today. I choose a pretty apron to wear.
I have my seeds picked out. All heirlooms. I will begin saving seeds again. Soon, soon, my hands will be in the warm soil. My beautiful space here will be positively transformed. I do love the reaction folks have, how shocked they are at how quickly a farm can replace barren soil. I will leave a third wild. While I wait for spring, I get all the reading done I wish. Plan my sewing projects and mending. Clean out cupboards and closets and get the nerve to tackle the garage. I walk around my land and smile. Home. Home is certainly where the heart and animals are.
When we first began this journey, we went into it wholeheartedly and completely naive. We learned, we cried, we laughed. A homesteading/farmsteading lifestyle makes life amplified. The good is really amazing, healing, and life-giving; babies being born, fresh food from the garden, baby goats prancing sideways, a lamb’s comical yell, gathering fresh eggs from the coop, watching the sun set, waving at friendly neighbors, gathering wood to bring inside before an approaching storm, hanging clothes on the line while watching wildlife.
Crop losses, predators, freak accidents, money worries; there are a lot of things to worry about while being a homesteader. The neighbor’s wolf/husky got into my coop last night and killed my favorite chicken, Bubba. I was mad at myself for not closing the coop sooner. I was mad that I purposely chose this lifestyle! Where there is life- and farms are teeming with life- there is death. And it is much more in your face than apartment living. When we lived in an apartment, on our way to our next homestead, we had plenty of stresses and things to worry about then too. So, it really is a matter of how you want to live. This lifestyle gets ingrained in you, so that you have no other choice but to live like this. And we do love it.
Being a homesteader and farmer comes with a great sense of accomplishment. I tend to point out everything on a guest’s plate that I grew or handmade. I love the methodical motions of traditional domestic work. We appreciate the intense rush of love that comes over us when we see a baby being born. We appreciate seeing the horizon and knowing how to judge the weather by watching nature. Homesteading and farming is all about family, and living life to the fullest. If life is short, then I want to spend time bottle feeding precious infant goats, and being followed around by lambs and chickens. I want to laugh at duck antics while sipping homemade wine. I want to watch the fire swell up as it fills the wood stove. I love tying off the final piece of yarn to finish a project or snipping the last thread on a dress I have made.
If you are considering adopting this lifestyle- Do It! You won’t regret it. It costs some to get started but it pays itself back quickly. We save money, eat well, live healthier, have a happier marriage, a closer family, and a sense that we are really living. Start somewhere. Get chickens, or cheese making equipment, or get out yarn to make holiday presents. This is a very good life.
I wish we had started homesteading and farming long ago. It would be nice to have a multi-generational legacy of land and tradition that becomes genetically ingrained in the children and is always a sense of comfort and a place to return. My eldest child grew up near the beginning of our journey so he had little experience with the farm (though he can grow anything), but perhaps he had some connection, because he would like a farm of his own some day. My middle child tends to pots of tomatoes and peppers, herbs and flowers that flourish on her second floor deck as she watches the deer cross her yard in her mountain-like neighborhood. My youngest daughter was around the most and seeing her hold a newborn goat for the first time was to watch a thirteen year old melt. So enthralled with farm life she became, and she and her husband are adamant about getting a farm and homesteading off grid. And of course, my granddaughter, has been a farmgirl since birth. Photo shoots with goats her first year and farmer’s markets in bonnets. Bottle feeding goats her second year, gardening her third, and so forth. She is the most excited about our new farm. Her baby sister will love it here too, I just know it. So, better late than never!
I will tell you a secret though; moving here to this gorgeous piece of land, I considered (gasp) not homesteading or farming (for like a week). Hang up my farmstead aprons and become a “normal” wife. I could get a job and wear smart pant suits and buy cans of food (instead of pulling them from the root cellar) and keep all the land as it is. I sat out on the back porch with my farm dog (who is a little bored without charges as am I) and looked out across the cedars and cactus, across the deep valleys, up the mountain tops, across the larger-than-life western sky, and then started envisioning things. Ah yes, normalcy didn’t last for long, because that (pointing) would be the perfect place for goats and sheep. That area could be kept wild for the bunnies and natural medicine. There is the vineyard, of course. There is the huge pumpkin patch and corn field as you enter the property. Here is the garden. There is where the clothes line will go. And so forth. Doug had the same ideas, so it wasn’t long until in our minds, a fully functioning homestead and farm was painted and planned. Homesteading and farming is hard work, but it is deeply satisfying, soul enriching, life giving work. And comes with wonderful things like homemade cheese and wine.
My grandparents grew up on farms (and had no desire to ever step foot on one again) and I was fascinated by their stories, always asking questions. The “normal” today is actually just the status quo. Farming and homesteading were not only the norm, but the expected, in every generation from my grandparents back. And I am honored to be a part of it. We will start this generational wisdom over starting here. Because it is important work. Environmentally, emotionally, sustainably, and beautifully important. Watch us grow!
What is your favorite aspect of homesteading/farming?
The very first showing of our house resulted in an offer. We are under contract. I love this little old house. I am proud of what I have done with the yard and the sheer beauty of the space makes me smile. I turned a barren driveway and dirt lot into an Eden in less than three growing seasons. So, now it’s perfect, time to move, right?!
This will be the 28th time I have moved. Doug’s parents lived in the same house for thirty years. He’s made me promise that we stay ten years to forever in the next house! Is the next house the sprawling adobe on a hundred acres that we envisioned as our next and forever home? Does it have water rights and mineral rights? Does it have a wood stove and solar? No, nope, and not yet.
We live in Colorado. We were both born and raised here. A zillion and a half folks who love pot, mountains, or who are in the military have moved here and prices rival San Francisco and New York City now. That baffles us both. My first house in Denver was $36,000. Those days are gone. Pueblo kind of got stuck in a time warp thanks to an old reputation of crime and gangs, but the city has cleaned up a lot and since there is so little housing in Colorado Springs, military families are moving here. Everything has gone up 50% in the past few years here in Pueblo, everywhere else we are talking a hundred grand more for everything from the suburbs to trailers.
When you are choosing a homestead, you have to choose your priorities. For us, Doug’s job is a really good one that he enjoys. Our children are here. Our granddaughters are here. And we were raised here; we like it here. We found a small town 30 minutes south of Colorado Springs. It puts us closer to his work and our kids by 15 minutes. It looks like it was a back to the land beacon back in the seventies. Driving down dirt roads one passes a large sprawling house and orchard next to a run down trailer next to a marijuana greenhouse, next to a house built in the 90’s. Very eclectic.
There are no wells and almost all of the water in Colorado is city water or not owned by the property owner. In Penrose, everything is on city water (more affordable than the other towns we have lived in thus far at least) and some properties have coveted ditch rights to water fields. The only one we saw like that was snatched up in days.
So, the question one must ask themselves is, “What do we want?” (Besides a sprawling adobe on a hundred irrigated acres…for $200,000…near Doug’s work and next door to the kids…)
For us, we have long given up the idea of commercial farming. We just want a few goats, chickens, ducks, a ginormous garden, and a great view. We can subsist on that easily. Three bedrooms and two baths. A wood stove.
Our realtor took us out Sunday and we went to the three places that were for sale under $300,000. The first one looked like the makings of a horror movie, with slanting floors, a falling down manufactured home, with lots of junk on two acres. The second one had five acres but we weren’t sure what we would do with five acres without water. One would need a rather long hose. The views were cut off by nearby houses and the ceiling of the manufactured home was falling in. That one was $225,000. Lord, help us. So, off to the third house (which we had driven by and disregarded).
It was humble on the outside. The inside was completely redone. Gorgeous wood floors, high ceilings, new kitchen, fresh carpet in the three bedrooms, all new paint. Two bathrooms with new vanities. A large master bedroom with a perfect view of the nearby mountain range. No wood stove.
The house sits crooked on just over an acre of cactus and cedar with views all around. A fenced in back yard is in place to keep our dog home before we can secure the mismatched fencing around rest of the property. A large shed with electricity would make a fine chicken coop. Neighbors are quite close. “Sometimes it is nice to have neighbors near,” my daughter commented later.
As we drove home discouraged and sure we’d have an offer on our house, I turned to Doug and asked, “If that house (and it was the only real house for sale) had six foot fencing around it and a wood stove, would we buy it?” He replied, “In a second.”
Since those are things we can do over time, we put in an offer and it was accepted! We move August 15th. I know it’s early and there are a million things that could go wonky from now to then (I am systematically going through over six and a half years of blog posts deleting irrelevant posts like when we thought we found a new rental or when I wanted to become a chef) but I wanted to share the news that we have found our homestead. It may not be the elaborate dream we had, but it is perfect for us, because it will be ours. I am beyond grateful. To think four years ago this week on the blog we were losing everything we owned and moving into our friend’s guest bedroom. And now we will have our own farm.
Farmgirl School adventures continue! Happy Homesteading wherever you are!
When you walk through the gates of my little urban homestead, there is a sense of serenity within its walls. The trees grow abundantly and circles and rectangles and wild tufts of herbs and flowers and vegetables grow everywhere. Climbing grapes and flourishing raspberries, rows of corn. The chicks chirp madly for more food and the hens strut about their yard. The farm dog stretches lazily on the couch. The cats are curled up in the sun. Homemade bread and fresh eggs for breakfast with hot coffee on the porch listening to crickets and birds sing.
Yes, we lead a very sweet life. This is the life of a homesteader. I have given you 27 ways and gone into more detail over 24 days of what loveliness goes into being a homesteader. I hope you know now that you can homestead anywhere, at any age. You can start with baking from scratch and move on to full out farming later. That you should most definitely get a cute apron.
Always buy the best you can afford. Cast iron is the best. Do your chores kind of slow. Keep your mind easy. Get a pen pal. Strive to live an old fashioned life. There are great joys and blessings that come with being a homesteader.
Now, I happen to know of a darling homestead coming up for sale. It is fully solar powered, with a wood stove, and a root cellar. It has a chicken coop and outbuildings. It has established gardens and a sense of home and place. It is beautifully kept up, wood floors, large kitchen. My homestead goes on the market today. I am going back to the country.
I will post the MLS as soon as I have it. If anyone knows of anyone who wants a sweet little urban homestead in Colorado, I’ve got one!
An epiphany. How many times do we hear things, read things, learn things before we finally GET IT?
“I’m so glad I’m not an addict,” I say to my husband, laughing, “I have zero self control!” We were out again. Out to eat even though we had food at home, we didn’t have the money to be eating out, and I knew damn well that I would feel terrible after eating at a restaurant. And yet, every couple of days I get to craving something and give in. Oh, it’s never fresh salad or anything like that.
“What if,” I ventured, “all of the preservatives and chemicals and refined oils in the food are actually addictive and that is why we keep having to eat out even though we don’t really want to?” I didn’t need an answer. We already knew. I am an addict. And it started long before I ever heard of a GMO or MSG or chemical food.
I casually looked at the ingredients of the bag of organic, gluten free, healthy chips that I packed into Doug’s lunch. And there, quietly hidden among the organic ingredients with asterisks by them, were two ingredients. Natural flavors and citric acid. Natural flavors is a chemical creation with derivatives of MSG and GMO ingredients. Citric acid is GMO black mold grown on GMO corn.
The epiphany and mild panic ensued and I realized that the reason that I cannot feel satiated with simple foods is because I have been fed chemical stuff my whole life! Ever since the marketing folks convinced grandma and mama that convenience was their birthright, we have been subtly poisoned.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, or anything, and I certainly don’t want to scare you, but folks, we are being poisoned. Snacks, treats, oils, restaurant foods, it’s in my chicken’s food…everywhere we are being given doses of chemicals created to keep us coming back. You can’t go to your friend’s house for dinner or a coffee shop for a latte without consuming these things. Consider the extreme rates of cancers and of all the other diseases out there, and well, it’s just no wonder.
I worry most for my grandchildren and children who would have no idea how to give up these things. How can most people afford to grow all of their own food or cook all of their own food? How do you give up the societal pressures of food as pleasure and company?
Obama wrote into law that Monsanto cannot be sued. Then Dow quietly bought Monsanto, disassembled it and GMO’s masquerade everywhere without accountability. History tells us that unsustainable entities cannot survive but who will die first, them or us? No better time to be getting yourself some heirloom seeds, a pressure canner, a couple of chickens, and a how-to make your own bread book. Because what is worse than ignorance? Complacency.
That was probably the most common question asked in my grandparent’s home. Where did the time go? They would be telling a story about a friend who used to live there, or the neighbor and her daughter, or look at how tall we had gotten and shake their heads and utter the question. This continued on through my children growing up, and even still, with Grandma gone, Grandpa shakes his head and says it again. Where did the time go?
I found myself the other day, as my youngest daughter had her wedding dress tailored, muttering under my breath the same words. It’s really all so beautiful, this life.
I have an amazing relationship with my children that I do not take for granted. Emily and I (and our men) have been talking about going in together on a family farm for some time now. I have learned better than to force it or hurry it up before the doors naturally open, but we are actively planning what we need to do to achieve this goal. All of my hair brained schemes (new businesses, new career ideas, etc.) are essentially routes to the farm. In my heart all I really want to do is homestead.
Emily and I talked yesterday on the phone about how much money we could save by staying home and working our family farm. We would be growing our own food (right now I grow four months worth of our produce (hopefully eight months worth this year), we are talking about chickens, goats, and I want to learn to fish. She went on to say how incredible it would be for her children to learn homesteading skills while being homeschooled and being so close to their grandparents. Growing up on a farm. This is what all of us have always wanted. For four years we lived that dream. We are ready to get back to it.
I love my little urban farm here. Solar powered, chickens, huge gardens, a farm dog, it’s good livin’ here. I am very grateful. I love donning an apron in the mornings. I love feeding the chickens, and gathering eggs, and watering the extensive beds, and harvesting weeds for salad. I love seeing everything grow, and the stack of wood on the porch, and the fruit trees leaf out. I love the look of colorful jars cooling after being processed in boiling water and listening to the pop-pop of the lids sealing the contents of summer within. I love going down to the cellar to bring up corn or tomatoes or jam or dandelion wine.
So, we plan to eat out less, put more money towards debt, start saving, keep an eye out for properties coming up, continue to dream. Whether it is here in this beautiful house in the city on a third of an acre, or on a larger family farm, this is the only life for me. And if I am going to shake my head and wonder where the time has gone, it may as well be in my rocking chair in front of a fire with a grandbaby on my lap on a family farm.