My life is very home-centered. I have been a stay at home mom since 2007, with the birth of our second daughter, and that time has brought my attention to minute details of what comes into and what leaves my home. Always concerned with health and environmental issues, I became obsessed with making certain that only the best came into my home and that I minimized the waste that left it. Eventually this lead our family to choose to completely change our lifestyle and move to our 10-acre-slice-of-potential.
Lately I’ve been questioning myself as to what we have accomplished and what more we need to be focusing on.
We had some simple goals: a bigger garden, chickens (maybe goats), a horse for the kids, an orchard, and the ability to do more for ourselves and rely less on the production/consumption markets.
So, were these legitimate and have we met any of these simple goals?
Well, we are on our third flock of chickens, and unfortunately not because we culled and ate for our efforts. Using what was here and flying by the seats of our pants did not work out all that well for us. Initially we purchased chickens of indeterminate breed from a local land owner looking to thin his flock. All were young and entirely unhandled. We had cleaned out an unused shed, added a string of nesting boxes, bought feeders and feed, and finally attached a pre-fab dog run to one of the shed doors as a protected run for the flock. My husband met the gentleman selling his chickens and the two of them caught approximately 10, threw them in a carrier, and my husband brought them home. What we had was in fact 13-5 cockerels and 8 pullets. After only a couple of weeks they had learned that they could get out of the run without waiting on us-since we were allowing them to range freely during the day. Shortly after that discovery was made 3 of the cockerels disappeared and were never seen again.
This was not the end of the disappearances. As chicken keeping was not going as well as I had envisioned I hit the library for some research. Around October of our first year homesteading, four months in the new house and 6 weeks with our chickens, we chose to get some chicks from the feed store and raise them, to compare to the first flock. We bought 5, expected to be all female, and of 5 different breeds. As they grew in size we moved them to the coop in December. Two of the newbies disappeared over winter and two more in March. March also brought the disappearance of two of the original hens. I was defiantly becoming concerned. We discovered King snakes on occasion and made the decision that snakes in the coop would be put to their death, as we were not willing to chance problems (those found elsewhere on the property were left alone, as the presence of king snakes keeps rattle snakes away).
In July my husband was away on a business trip and I was the only one on chicken duty. One morning before the kids got up I was enjoying a bit of quiet time on the back deck, drinking some tea. The chicken coop-or old shed we were using as such-was about 100 yards from the house, and I was looking at it trying to remember if I had shut up the chickens the night before. I couldn’t remember and couldn’t tell from where I was standing so I put on my crocs and went wandering to the back. I noticed a weird cluster of feathers off to the side in the tall grass. Then, a little farther out the only surviving hen from our first round of hand raised chicks came running toward me from a cluster of shrubs and jumped into my arms. Since she was never that friendly I was concerned. I took her back to the coop-which had been closed the night before-and started looking for the rest of my flock. Two very young ones that we had gotten during Tractor Supply’s chick week were on the back deck-which they thought of as their home, and the terrified one were all I found. I did find several patches of feathers. It seemed that coyotes or some other predator had decimated my flock early that morning. Rouge, the girl who had jumped into my arms was so devastated that she did not leave the coop for weeks, she barely ate and she didn’t lay for nearly 3 months. At that point I got a tarp to cover the top of the dog run, stopped letting the chickens range free, and made plans to convert a busted old trailer into a movable coop, which is what we use, now.
The good news is a bit of serious reading and some re-working of our resources has made chicken keeping a family activity we have under control. We have even expanded that to include ducks (bought at Easter) simply for the pleasure of reasonably priced extremely tasty duck dinner. And I have the hope of including the purchase of a young turkey or two to add to our holiday table for next year.
The goats and horse are on hold indefinitely. Our desire hasn’t changed, but something more pressing came up; the house needed serious repair.
While we have 10 lovely acres, we did not buy the property for the house. It had been expanded a couple of times and had a very awkward layout. We were not concerned, however, as we felt we could make some moderate adjustments to wall placement and things would be more comfortable. What we didn’t realize was that there existed three slabs under that house. Additionally, we bought our home during the driest year of Texas’ recorded history. This caused one of the slabs-that under the majority of the bedrooms-to fracture.
We would not have noticed the fracture immediately, except that we went into the attic to look at some of the materials left behind from the previous owners and noticed large gaps separating the rafters from the center ridge beam of the roof. These gaps were so large that many of the rafters had only an inch of nail still in place. This prompted us to pull up the carpet in the hallway and bedrooms and face a major mess. The next month was one of frustration as we
tried to determine what to do.
In Texas this is not without precedent, and we were able to contact companies that can jack up and re-sit all or part of a foundation. The problem was that the roof had to be replaced, too. As we added up the expenses we made the discovery that it would be cheaper to entirely replace that section of foundation instead of repairing it. Added to the fact that the roof would have to come down anyway, an off-hand comment about adding space while making repairs soon had us making plans to add a second story over that portion of the existing home.
The weekend of Thanksgiving we, along with friends and family, tore the damaged portion of the home down. This left us with the living room, kitchen, pantry, bonus room and two bathrooms. Sleeping arrangements got interesting… About a week later the concrete guys removed the bad slab, and it was clear this was the best choice we could have made. The broken slab was brittle and would not have withstood the stress of repair. They then poured a new, much re-enforced, slab in the footprint of the old one.
And I began the task of removing nails and screws from every salvageable piece of wood in the house; two years later I still find myself on nail pulling duty, but that is another story.
We are about 75% complete on the reconstruction. We put many hours of work and a lot of our friends and family’s vacation hours early on into the initial structural construction. Unfortunately, we all have work and other life tasks that must be addressed, and as we have made the space livable (in a sense) more work waits on our leisure and additional funding.
We did not borrow much and have been able to pay cash from most of the work, but that has caused delays to other projects such as fencing.
As part of life having to keep moving even while the house is under construction is that I have learned to can, which was not a skill I ever planned to develop. I was not opposed to the notion; I just had never given it any consideration. It is now one of my favorite hobbies and a way I make a little bit of money. I am addicted to making jams and jellies and they sell reasonably well at the farmers’ market. I am even building up a big enough stock pile to be considering selling some through Etsy…
My garden is not really bigger than the one I had previously, but I am becoming a better gardener and it is certainly the most productive one I’ve had as an adult. I’m not yet near my goal of producing over half of our food right here on the property, but I think I will reach that point in the next couple of years. And we have started our orchard with plans to expand. One issue we will address is the need to install a formal irrigation system, as watering the orchard is quite a hassle. We did however make certain to select trees well suited to Texas weather and I hope that each successive year will require less watering.
We have also added another element to our initial plan: the homesteading favorite of rabbits. My husband has developed fantasies of rabbit stew and rabbit sausage (that he will make with his new meat grinder). I am imagining the new round of drama we face as the first critter gets butchered-the girls were sad for three days when the first of our hand raised chicken was killed by a friends “well-behaved” dog. Conversely, I am thinking about how much my compost will improve with the addition of rabbit dung. All in all, I think rabbits will be a fine experiment for us all, after all, it can’t be any harder than chickens….
On the whole, I think we are well on our way. I am glad we do not have to entirely rely on our efforts here on our land to provide for the family, as we have already made several blunders of judgment, but I look at all of our experiences as positive and plan to keep moving forward.