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!
Summer is filled with gardening, preserving, get togethers, coffee on the porch at sunrise, and blessed warmth. Autumn brings with it the first fire in the hearth, flannels, and skies filled with stars, majestic colors splayed upon the trees. Winter brings holidays and rest, crafts by the fire, and a bit of cabin fever. Spring is the loudest season. It bursts forth with wild temperatures, hints of summer, reminders of winter, plants expand and burst with new life. Ready to shake off the winter doldrums, spring teases with ideas of planting and sunshine. She can be finicky, but she does bring us one of the greatest gifts, baby season.
From my bathroom I hear the gentle chirping of cotton ball sized chicks and the splashing of half pint ducklings.
Baby goats on their last week of bottles yell incessantly from their pasture to remind me. Their calls suspiciously sounding like a loud, “MOM!” They hop on their dog and play Jackie Chan off the chicken coop.
My eight month old Siamese gets cuter and louder each day. She can play fetch with a milk jug ring for hours. Seems like I got a Border Collie instead of a kitten. Her sister delights us as well.
I am always a bit crazy in the spring. Spring fever is a real thing, folks! It is always the time that my mind races with ideas and dreams and future plans. Usually once the garden is in full swing I calm down, but this year with the lockdown, Lord, I am even worse! Let’s see, I am registered for full time classes at the local college to start in the fall (though the debt certainly is freaking me out), I have devised a business plan for a whole new apothecary set to open down in my neck of the woods, and of course, the quarter acre garden and all the land’s inhabitants I have brought home!
I do wonder if anyone else is like this in the springtime. My husband is so beautifully steadfast all year. It is easier to take a breath and live one day at a time with so many darling babies here. Blessed Spring.
It was nearly five years ago. As we stood outside in the dirt of the prairie, the wind howling, watching our animals being trucked away one by one to new homes, tears ran down our faces. We were leaving the world of farmers and joining the world of the homeless. We prayed that one day we would be able to hold a baby goat again, to feel the breeze around us as we surveyed our vegetable gardens, to hear a rooster crowing as the sun rose over the horizon somewhere in the country.
We moved from friend’s house to friend’s house, diligently working, to apartment, to owning a home in the city, to homesteading that piece of land (not able to have goats in the city), working harder, purchasing land in the country. Our own. Our own land in the country. Where we could have goats.
Doug was insistent that we adopt boys. Boys are fairly useless in the traditional farming model. A few will become studs or maybe a lucky wether will be a companion animal, but by and large, boys are meat. And if there is not enough demand for goat’s meat, they are thrown in dumpsters. It was hard to choose who to save.
So, these two will be wethered (neutered) and will hopefully live a long, happy life prancing around the farm, entertaining visitors and being apart of the family. I was worried about our Great Pyrenees, how he would take to them. He sniffed them thoroughly, then went off to protect the fortress. They will all be just fine.
We are all smiles, babies in our arms, bottles in the fridge. Feels like a farm.
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.
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 long to get this show on the road. To get this new farm set up! Get the rototiller! Get the goats! Get the fencing done! Let’s get planting!
But, alas, it is October 2nd. I can plant hopeful bulbs of dancing tulips and sunshine yellow daffodils that will surprise me with delight come spring. That is all.
The wood stove is coming next week and the goat shed is coming too and we are slowly getting fencing done. I can see it all! I can see the corn in rows interspersed with pumpkins zooming along the front yard on green tendrils and vines. I can see the vineyard I have always wanted stretching out to the western sky. I can see the bright red tomatoes, the crisp lettuces dancing in the cool breeze, the baby goats and sheep jumping around the pasture in the sunlight. My polar bear dog with a job, finally.
I can see myself moving the dutch oven to make room for the kettle for a cup of tea and checking the fire. I can hear the vibrant shaking of the pressure canners putting away summer’s gifts. Wiping my hands on my apron and taking my granddaughters outside to play. Watching the sun set behind the wild pasture with rabbits shooting to and fro and turkey vultures swaying gently on the breeze overhead.
This is our fourth farm. Our fourth homestead. The second home of our own since beginning homesteading. This one on land. In the country. Our own. My heart soars with gratitude and excitement to get this farm set up! But alas, it is October 2nd.
The dark smoke billowed densely and ferociously off the mountain sides. The smell of it all filled the air. The wildfire was scarcely contained and my heart broke for the animals and trees and the wildness being consumed. Death and ending before our eyes as we drove to our mini-vacation spot. Next spring, there on the mountain, life will unfold. Everything in its season.
The aspens and oaks danced in brilliant colors of gold and red, creating patchworks across the mountainsides. That specific shade of bold autumn blue sans clouds stretched above everything and the west was in its ultimate splendor.
Our youngest daughter, her husband, and their new baby joined us for a few days at a beautiful place. A private spot where one can hike to various hot spring pools nestled along the mountain. Walking along the path we stopped to eat hawthorn berries and wild plums. Deer wandered past the pools, a fawn catching up with her mother. Birds flitted from thick tree to tree and life buzzed all around. It is a clothing optional resort and the feeling of air on one’s skin while passing thickets of herbs and trees and the feeling of the water from warm waterfalls is grounding and restorative.
A crow cawed and flapped its wings loudly as it flew close by. The warmth of the water followed by the cool breeze was enlivening. Amongst plans of future and to-do’s and day-to-day life, it is good to rest and restore, to ground in a new place, to spend time with loved ones, and to look out over thickets of oaks and pines and into valleys. To pull a blanket closer around, sip coffee, and hear the earth speak, as breezes lightly blow fog up the road. Everything in its season.
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?
“And just like that, we are homesteading again!” Doug said as he walked into the house after work. Two pressure canners were sputtering on the stove, twelve quarts of homemade chicken broth within. The house smelled wonderful. I was in the process of making cheese. We ate tortellini en brodo alfresco while pointing out where we should put our Pumpkin Hollow Farm sign. Yes, just like that, we will be farming again too.
The first real homestead we had was gradual; first a garden, then chickens, then goats, we learned one thing at a time. The next thing we knew we were practically living off grid and cooking on a wood cook stove! We have learned a lot over the past decade. I waited to see if Doug wanted to homestead and farm. I didn’t want to just jump into it. After all, it is an expensive adventure to start and it is a lot of work. He keeps talking about breeds of goats, and wethered sheep, and plotting the grazing section and where to put our vineyard…we went and picked up fencing for goats and sheep. We’re in. Homesteading isn’t just a job or a lifestyle, it becomes a very part of you.
I couldn’t remember how much it cost to have farm animals (besides chickens), it has been four years since we have had goats and sheep (that is how long it has taken us to get back to the country). This blog holds, not only my memoir within it, but so much information that I constantly resort back to. I looked up “How Much Does it Cost to Have A Farm Animal” from the first year I started this blog. I was pleasantly surprised to see that prices have only increased about 20%. I did expect higher. We should still be well in our budget to feed some more furry kids that give milk and fiber.
I have been visiting local vineyards. Grapes grow very well here and I would love to start my own winery. Even if it is just for me and my friends to start. A lot of folks focus on one thing, maybe beef, or chickens, or vegetables. They aren’t all over the map like I am. I want to have a vineyard, use my own plants to dye my own fiber from my sheep, create beautiful crocheted and sewn pieces to sell, have a huge pumpkin patch, a large garden, have milking goats, and still leave land to be wild and a safe place for bunnies. (Gandalf loves bunnies. They are as delicious as the chickens, apparently.) I love to have variety. That way, I always have what we need and my creative expressions can change as well. I am not going to get burnt out having sheep if I only have two!
When plotting your homestead, first write out what you would like. Garden? Chickens? Ducks? Remember that poultry will consume everything in their path, so they have to be separate from the garden. Goats? They will eat trees down to nothing so the orchard (did you want an orchard?) has to be fenced away from the cute ruminants. Do you have a niche you want to focus on? Don’t think of money while you are writing down your list. What do you want to do? Then draw out your land (even if it is a quarter acre or in the city) and sketch in where you will put everything. Decide on priorities based on money and time to get things started.
Then note where you might make extra money from your homesteading adventures but always have a back up plan. That is the most valuable lesson we learned over the past ten years. Pumpkin Hollow Farm continues on! Our family is excited.
Where are you at in your homesteading adventures? My granddaughter, Maryjane, has loved our farms and has made so many memories. I want to have Grammie and Pa’s farm for her and her sister. So, it’s not all serious here. Homesteading and farming should be fun.
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!
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.