Adjust fire…

Chickens and Fruit Trees
Chickens and Fruit Trees

I’ve been greedily devouring any information I can get my hands on regarding farming, homesteading, even B&B business planning in an effort to be as prepared as possible for problems that could arise. Of course through this process we are always refining our business plan and our goals. Recently I was looking up some info on the Missoula County extension office website and found a flyer for a seminar on starting a small farm and I decided to sign up. The info was good, but the most benefit came from being in the same room with 15 people all with the same type of goal we have: to produce healthy, organic, and local food products and value add products.

At the end of the seminar I stayed late to talk to a few of the other beginning small-farmers and exchange ideas, and one subject that came up was the idea of a “food hub”, or specifically our location becoming a “food hub” for our local area because we have the space, will presumably already be retailing our own produce, are located smack in the center of a 20 mile diameter circle with no food retail at all, and are conveniently located right off a main thoroughfare. I think it’s a great idea and as we move forward I’m going to be looking at the feasibility of setting up a small retail stand/area to carry products and produce from other local small farmers to maximize value for our customers and work together with other folks starting out just like us.

The process for us so far has been to “just do it”. “Lean start-ups” just do it. We can’t wait for years to save enough money to build out everything at once, nor do we want to. An incremental process will allow us to start small and slow in all areas of production and find out what we really like and what performs well in our model. Chickens are a great example, we just had seven chickens our first year to learn about them, decide if they were worth the effort for us, and develop systems. Now that we have been working with ours a while we were able to make an informed decision about whether to expand our chicken operation, and we are as we speak! Taking this approach to every facet of our homestead will minimize our exposure to financial risk and flatten the learning curve.

During my weekly phone business meeting with the wife we decided we want to get all of our land into production this year, why waste it? We want to offer areas of our property that won’t be used by us this year to folks in our area that maybe don’t have any space for a garden, but want one. We’d like to set up a kind of share-cropping deal with some local folks so we can get a little food in exchange for the water and electricity, and provide them with a place to grow their own food or animals!

My year is going to focus on planting trees. We need to get that done this year because they need time to get established and grow. In addition to trees I’m going to be setting up raised beds to grow a few different high-dollar-per-acre crops so we can see how they perform and make a decision about what we want to grow out here long-term.

Stuff happens, and things change. It’s exciting to be living on this property and growing it, and growing with it. I’ve learned so much this last year and can barely sleep at night thinking about the potential this venture holds for us. I’ve got a lot planned for this summer, from planting and building to networking in the community and focusing our brand. Stay tuned because I’m going to be hitting y’all up with a Kickstarter later this year to purchase a small still that we can use to produce alcohol from our fruit trees, I intend to let others use it for a fee or a small share when we get it up, running, and licensed.

P.S.
Anyone interested in homesteading, backyard chicken ranching, small-scale farming, etc., take a look at your county extension office’s website for some helpful information and opportunities to find like-minded folks to bounce ideas off of.

Nose? Meet Grindstone…

asahyryv

The week in review!

First off, I went back and read some of our previous posts and lately it sounds like everything is going smoothly. In reality there are always setbacks, but I prefer to focus on the positive. I intended to post a tutorial the other day on making some awesome chicken waterers that actually keep the water clean, and everything went great until the very end. The valves I purchased won’t stay closed without a certain amount of water pressure, so now I need to order different valves. Also I came home today to find a large excavator parked in the front yard (it seems people see that area as a good place to park or turn around), next time I’m going to just open the door and lock Big Mike inside the cab.

Weekly successes include: moving the rest of our belongings from the house in town we sold, started working with the bank to purchase some neighboring property, got the frost-free yard hydrant installed so watering will be MUCH easier this year, and buying an egg incubator.

Next week will begin our first round of incubating our fertilized chicken eggs! We are waiting to do a run of twenty, and I have 16 saved, so after tomorrow we should be ready. All of our hens produce very unique eggs, so it’s easy to tell who they came from, and we have a good mix from all the ladies. This first round will bring us very close to our goal of hatching twenty more chicks this year to increase our production. Since we don’t expect all the eggs to hatch, it may take two runs to hit our goal, but it’s early in the year so we’re not concerned, we’ll get there!

The baby rabbits are growing so fast! They are already venturing from their nest to find their mother and feed! We learned a bit about rabbits recently, most importantly that you need to protect your bucks from the does when they are getting ready to give birth, our lop pulled a ton of his fur off to build her nest. We separated everyone, and I built another rabbit cage so they could cool off and he can heal. This year we hope to build two buildings on the property, one a much larger chicken coop, and one a building to house our growing rabbit operation. At the rate they multiply, we’re going to have our hands full!

As our homestead grows we’re going to need more and more feed for all these animals, so I’m trying to come up with some creative ideas to save money and use waste. I intend to approach some local restaurants and bakeries and propose trading fresh eggs for waste, or just taking it off their hands instead of letting it go to the landfill. I’ll also continue saving all our food scraps for the animals, some days all they eat is the cuttings and peelings from meals we prepare. If anyone else has any good ideas on this front please post a comment!

2013 Photo Review

Dawn and One of Our Bearded Ladies
Dawn and One of Our Bearded Ladies
A Music Video on the Roof--Grandma's Little Darlings
A Music Video on the Roof–Grandma’s Little Darlings
Fixing a Leak
Fixing a Leak
Our First Fence
Our First Fence
Water
Water
A Pantry
A Pantry
Heat in the Bedroom
Heat in the Bedroom
Gonzaga's Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga’s Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga's Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga’s Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Al's Dinner
Al’s Dinner
A Generator for Electricity
A Generator for Electricity
Gary Busey
Gary Busey
Chickens and Fruit Trees
Chickens and Fruit Trees
Our First Garden
Our First Garden
Firewood
Firewood
Firewood
Firewood
Grapevines
Grapevines
Our First Kits
Our First Kits
The Making of a Modern Homestead
The Making of a Modern Homestead
Sunset
Sunset
Bedroom Windows
Bedroom Windows
2013 Photo Review
2013 Photo Review

Simple? Steps to Living Your Dreams

Oglethorpe

The most liberating day came for me last year when I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was a paradigm shift. I observed my whole life in a new way. Everything I did became more meaningful and important. Every decision I made (or Al and I made together) was a strategic to move us together or myself forward toward a new goal and challenge. And every ounce of effort I put into my life, I realized would pay off somehow, someday.

I’m sure that you all know people who seem to have it all figured out. I’ll give you an example to illustrate the person who highlighted this for me.

Her name is Emily. She is my childhood friend from elementary school. And even though I moved away when I was eleven, I remember her vividly, because we learned how to type together in third grade.

Emily and I both excelled at typing. I remember memorizing words in my head by “typing” them out to practice, because I took it that seriously. Our scores were always within a few points of each other. Since this is my blog though, I’m going to say that I definitely beat her at typing every time–in accuracy and speed–when I was eight years old.

Fast forward to college and Emily becomes a stenographer. A stenographer?! I honestly did not even know that was a real career. Google it–it is, and they make good money, especially if they own their own business and contract themselves out.

I am in no way jealous of Emily (who is now in Asia becoming a certified yoga instructor). Instead, I am inspired by her. Every time she conquers a fear, it makes me want to become more fearless.

So, here is some honest and hopefully helpful advice about how to live out YOUR dreams, whatever they may be. Hopefully we can inspire people by never giving up on ours…

1. Know yourself and be confident in what you know

From the type of ice cream that you like, to your style, to how well you manage your finances, get yourself on lock down. You might need to begin by honestly evaluating where you’re at. So…
– Take a week out of your life to do a gut check with everything you do and make sure you are in line with that still small voice inside of you.
– Continue doing what you enjoy. Your love of __x__ will inspire others because you will give your hobby/career a life that no one else can. If you do not enjoy anything, work on step one and dig deeper.
– Move forward every day. Create goals and remind yourself of them as often as possible. I don’t believe in creating goals that I know deep down I’m not going to accomplish. If you do this, you have just given up on yourself without even beginning. Set attainable goals, achieve them, then set harder goals.

2. Do something that scares you every day.

I had no idea how many things scared me until I began to seek out my fears:
– I was afraid of running outside because I thought I would sprain my ankle. Fear conquered.
– I was afraid of chickens because when I was little our rooster chased and pecked at me. Suck it, fear. Hello chicks.
– I was afraid of starting a garden because I didn’t want to kill all of the plants and feel like a murderer. (Thanks Al for helping out with this goal!) Garden #2 will be coming this spring.

Knowing your fears is also a part of knowing yourself–so look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the face and begin to work towards the life you really want. Your dream life. Then, give your dreams some traction and think through how to make them achievable and attainable.

Plan. Move forward. Work hard. Don’t give up. Watch your dreams unfold in front of you.

Paid In Full!

Our Lop

Well today is the day!  After working our butts off and some well timed good luck, I’m on my way to pay off the loan on Primrose Station!!!  I’m sure my lovely wife wouldn’t have believed me a year ago if I told her we’d be done that soon, but then again, I wouldn’t have either.

This year one of our major goals with an eye to self-sufficiency was setting a budget and doing good financial planning.  Soon Erin is going to write a much more in-depth article regarding financial preparedness, so I won’t go into any of that here.  Suffice to say that when we started intensely tracking our spending, we found a lot of income that had just been flying out the window each month.

In other news, don’t tell my wife but there is still one connection to make to actually get the water from the well into the building, the contractor didn’t get the hole bored through the foundation in time and some of the ground froze.  Back to work!  Later on today I’ll be down in the hole again with a propane heater thawing things out so I can get that project off my list!

I finally had the opportunity to meet our baby rabbits and they are so cute!  I feel like Lenny, I just want to hold them, and pet them, and love them…  We had to separate the mother and kits, so now our buck is tending to the other lady rabbit, so we will have another litter shortly!  Unfortunately the little guy is in rough shape, the other doe pulled a bunch of his hair out to build her nest.  Glad I’m not a rabbit… also glad my wife isn’t one.

The weather isn’t great, I’ve been on the road for a month, I have so many projects to do before my wife can come home, but I finally feel so relaxed jettisoning a large portion of our monthly debt load.  If you’ve read the New Years Resolution post please leave some feedback about our upcoming project and/or more ideas (I’d like to build some cold frames too) to make this homestead a success.  Would love to hear from some other homesteaders!

Sacrifice…

20140107-143623.jpg

Anyone that knows us knows that we have given up a lot of creature comforts over the last year to attain our goals. At the end of last year I was still stationed in California and Erin had already found a job up here and moved back to get us established, and during that time to save up money I lived in an RV. Parked on the street like a crazy person. 1SG hated it but as he noted it “wasn’t technically illegal” so he “had to let me do it”. Not only was it fun, like camping every day, but it did free up a lot of money to pay down debt, get our projects in Montana rolling, and fix the RV up to be our base for a bit when I finally moved home. I archived the experience here for those that are interested: The original forum thread this page was born out of..

We’ve had a lot of challenges with all of these projects, but I’m confident we’ll succeed, we will obviously do almost anything to make sure of that! This year is going to be a huge year for us as we expand our homestead operations at Primrose Station and learn as much as we can about self-sufficient and sustainable living. Thanks to everyone for all of their help and encouragement!

Also, I need to get my hands on some sugar beets if anyone has a few laying around…

New Year’s Resolutions

20140105-134325.jpg

1. Grow our family of animals to be 20 chickens and 50 rabbits without purchasing any new chicks or kits at the store. (Kit is short for kitten, the term for a baby rabbit–cute attack!)

2. Host our 1st annual 4th of July celebration. Complete with a BBQ, bunting, and fireworks.

3. Build new homes for the chicks and rabbits so they no longer have to cohabitate.

4. Purchase the neighboring property to expand our homestead.

5. Stay active and prioritize our fitness by hiking, running, and working out.

6. Pay off Primrose Station.

7. Expand our garden.

8. Plant 50 fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.

9. Construct a working bathroom.

10. Get Primrose Station on the National Historic Register.

Babe! Merry Christmas! I Got You Running Water.

7 Gallon Aqua-Tainers

You know that moment when you’re really excited about a great idea? Finally wearing those sexy shoes out, taking your child on a large roller coaster for the first time, the family vacation to Disneyland, or moving in with your life-long best friend…then, your feet start to hurt, your child begins bawling, the stress of buying a $15 pickle and waiting in a 3-hour line makes you want to jump on a large firework, and…you no longer have a best friend.

Yea, you know what I’m talking about. The exhilaration of the great idea becomes reality. And sometimes reality looks directly into your eyes and picks its nose.

We moved into Primrose Station last year in April. I will never forget the honeymoon stage of the first few nights there. It was so romantic. We built a fire…inside the building. We drank wine and watched the sun set. We turned on a propane lantern and read before going to sleep. It felt like we were camping—because we were literally living in an RV inside our crazy 5000 square foot windowless monolith.

I felt like I had a pretty good attitude all things considering. We did not have running water. We did not have electricity. We did not have windows. Don’t even get me started on those other creature comforts like HOT water, toilets, or refrigeration. I secretly stashed clothes in the lockers at work and showered there every day.

Now that I think about it, it was probably not-so-secret. I am not a very subtle person, so people probably noticed that I ran through the building in some kind of weird track outfit in the morning and were surprised when they saw me later in the day wearing something more work appropriate.

Since we didn’t have a refrigerator, we bought a $329 Yeti cooler to keep our perishable food in. Which leads me suddenly to the conclusion that this whole project may have been some kind of farce to trick me into getting Al all of the sweet gear he’s ever wanted. WHO BUYS A $329 COOLER?! I’m sure that Al will make a post someday about all of the technical aspects of the Yeti cooler and why it was so important for us, but for all of you husbands out there who think you can trick your wives into buying a warehouse somewhere to fill with all of the gear you’ve ever wanted…I’m on to you now. For the record, and maybe to make you jealous, he does also have: a riding lawn mower, two complete sets of power tools, and a tractor.

Since we didn’t have running water, we used 7 gallon Aqua-Tainers to hold our water and we carried it in from the water pump outside. I learned just yesterday that 1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so those damn Aqua-Tainers weighed 58.38 pounds!! It is no wonder that on lazy days I would throw Al a cold can of chili to eat for dinner instead of lugging one of those giant jugs into the “kitchen” to make something more substantial.

Our Iveco Z-100

Since we didn’t have a toilet…

…I just want you to stew on that for a moment…

We had a toilet in the RV that Al used, but I refused to use. So, *TMI coming, click away right now if you have any respect for yourself at all.

If you’re still here, I’ll tell you what I did. Ladies, I peed outside. Every. Damn. Day. And Montana in April is not warm. Luckily, I have total control over my body (except when I run into or drop things), and I was coincidentally near functional toilets any other time I needed them. Try to put that into your iCal.

So, we survived our first Spring. I may have come to work looking like a hobo, but at least I had a job that had a locker room and showers. Al may have been malnourished, but at least he had new man-toys to cuddle him to sleep. And because every good husband wants to please his wife, my Christmas present this year was RUNNING WATER! And an AR (an Armalite rifle), but that’s a story for another day. Happy New Year everyone!

Electric trains come to MT. In 1915! Check out the video!

The building we’re working on turning into our business and home is an electric train substation built around 1915.  We’ve already learned so much about the MILW and our building, but I’ll wait until our historian finishes our National Historic Register application and post it here to make sure all the facts are 100% correct.  This video features one of the electric train substations in Montana, not ours but the station east of Butte, which is unfortunately gone now.  We’ve ended up with one of the last ones, so we’re committed to getting it registered and rehabbing the outside of the building.  How cool is it that Montana, Idaho, and Washington were all connected by an electric train line so long ago?

On Chickens…

IMG_0838

Chickens.

Chickens are a great example of something that seems really difficult to do until you actually do it (it did for us anyway).  Every time I’m skeptical about trying something new, I just remember the anxiety I felt when we first got into “chicken ranching”.

Believe me when I say that we lost some sleep over these chickens, especially since neither of us had raised them before, so we were relying strictly on book knowledge and tips from the girl at Murdoch’s.   Chickens are actually quite easy to raise and keep happy, we even free-range ours during the warm season and they put themselves to bed in their coop at night!

Chicks, Man!

They’re so cute!  They’ll be cute for a while, and the best part is at this phase they are not only easy to please, they aren’t big enough to get into mischief.  To take care of hatched chicks you just need a brooder, food and water dispensers, and bedding.  A brooder is a box, with a heat lamp hanging about a foot above it.  Chicks have a fuzzy coat of downy feathers that keep them very warm, so set your heat lamp up above one side of the box.  You’ll notice the chicks regulate their own temperature by moving closer to, or further away from, the heat lamp.  You’ll also notice it’s just super cute they way they fall asleep standing up every few minutes, they’re so tired from growing!  Just make sure they have plenty of food and water (some sources recommend spreading feed in the bedding too to give them something to scratch for).

Ugh, Teenagers…

Five or six weeks in you’ll notice your cute chicks have grown into awkward teenagers.  Chicks grow really fast, you’ll be surprised how much they change from week to week.  Watching them grow up under your care is rewarding and fun, and by this point they are quite hardy.  Their cute downy coat will be replaced over time with real feathers, and at this stage they look a bit like they have the mange.  At this point we had ours in a coop running around and they loved it, although we did keep the heat lamp in next to their nesting boxes until their adult feathers had come in all the way.

Our Chickens

Finally…Eggs!

It can take around six months for chickens to fully mature, hopefully by this time you’ve identified all your roosters and given them away on Craigslist (just kidding).  Most urban areas that allow chickens don’t allow roosters, but if you can keep them we recommend one, he’ll protect the ladies and provide some order.  Having more than one rooster is a gamble, we had three total, and two of them ganged up on and killed the third.  Roosters are aggressive and “cocky”, and will chase and attack even large things like you…, or a truck.  Roosters’ natural “attitude” is something to consider if you have small children or other animals, but it was our experience that ours eventually learned we were above them in the pecking order.  Ready for eggs?  Now’s the time!  If your chickens get to this point and they aren’t laying there are some things to consider.  Is something stressing them out?  Is their diet sufficient?  Is it too late in the year?  Chickens will naturally stop laying in the winter months when the days get shorter, you can trick them into laying all year using timed lights in their chicken coop!  Do some research before you buy your chicks if you want differently colored or sized eggs, different breeds all have different characteristics, including number of eggs per year and even how much they’ll tolerate children.  If you aren’t handy OR want a head-start, buy a pre-built chicken coop with nesting boxes that are accessible from the outside, OR use a chicken tractor!

When feeding your chickens, remember that they’ll eat most table scraps (even egg shells, which are a great source of the calcium they need to make more…egg shells.).  Instead of throwing vegetable cuttings straight onto your compost, we recommend feeding them to the chickens.  This will improve your compost AND save money on feed.  It is NOT recommended to put large amounts of chicken droppings straight into your garden, it is very high in nitrogen and needs to be composted or “aged” a bit before use.

Chickens are surely worth the effort, after coddling ours all summer we now get up to five multi-colored eggs per morning!  Chickens are a great first step into homesteading and will become a valuable part of your homestead’s ecosystem, providing food, insect control, great compost, and a safe healthy alternative to cable television!