I must admit, it's been fun to be able and talk with you all about the new homestead. You've been a big help on Facebook already, offering advice, suggestions, and encouragement. Thank you for that!
As you can imagine, I've been busy planning and daydreaming about where to begin. Of course, there's the whole moving-across-the-country-with-all-our-stuff details to work out, but I'm choosing to ignore that for the moment and concentrate on the more exciting things.
In an effort to not completely overwhelm myself, or my dear husband, I've decided to make a ‘small' list of goals for the homestead. In time I know this will develop and change, but for the next three months (until school starts again) while I've got free-labor (ie: my husband), here's a few things I'd like to get started on once we arrive:
1. The first goal will be to build a pen/fencing, like the fencing above, for our dairy cow. Yes, you heard me, I said dairy cow. I'm calling to put an offer on her today! The details, obviously, have yet to be worked out. We've been praying about this opportunity for a long time (okay, well, at least I have) and I am so excited that this moment has finally arrived! The cow we are hoping to purchase is a 4 year old purebred Jersey cow, located only 30 minutes from our new home. She is bred and due to calve in late August. This works out well for us because a) we can avoid milking during the hottest time of the year (heat + raw milk = no bueno) and b) it will allow us some time to get a pen and fencing put up for the calf.
There is already a shelter in place, but we will still need to put up a pen coming off it for her to be confined in when she is not grazing. The calf will need a separate pen to be in, so that we can separate them as needed for proper milk scheduling.
If the cow has a heifer calf, we will raise and sell her as a milker.
If the cow has a bull calf, we will likely castrate it and raise it as meat for the family.
2. This leads me to goal number two. Set up portable electric fencing for grazing the cow and calf. The five acres has plenty of room for the cattle to graze and while the pasture needs some work, it will be at least a great supplement to hay. Especially if we can irrigate it. We should have plenty of pasture to graze them on until winter. Improving the pasture will take time, but because we are only running one pair, it should suffice until we can work on improving the pasture and implementing a more intensive-grazing management system. We will likely just run some electric wire, portioning off a small section of pasture, that we can move every week or so throughout the summer.
We will also need to begin buying hay for the winter months.
3. Having a dairy cow is no small commitment. And I understand that. On the flip side of the large commitment though comes milk, kefir, yogurt, cheese, cream, ice cream, butter, buttermilk, and more!
I will need to acquire a few supplies over the summer in preparation of her calving and freshening.
– Lead rope
– Stainless steel milk bucket
– Wash rags and a wash bucket, for cleaning her udder prior to milking
– Milking stool
– Large Mason jars for storing the milk
– Fabric scraps and a metal band, to put over the mouth of the Mason jar for filtering the milk
– Udder cream. Homemade with coconut oil and essential oils, naturally. More on this later.
– Butter churn
– Cheese press and a few cheese making supplies
Stuart has vowed to help with the preparation of the cheeses (secretly, he's always wanted to be an artisan cheese maker). While I'm familiar with a few soft cheese, I've yet to dabble in hard cheeses. But I won't let that deter me. Part of how we can justify the purchase of the dairy cow in the long run is by being able to replace products we currently buy with homemade ones. And we eat more than soft cheeses, my friends. So hard cheeses we must. This will be A LOT of work through the fall and winter when she's in her peak production, but as any seasonal food and harvest goes, the hard work now pays off in the long run.
And, I'll be honest, the image of beautiful, homemade, grass-fed cheese lined up in the fridge is enough to send me over the moon. Bring on the hard work, I say.
Point being: learning how to make hard cheese is one of the first things on the to-do list.
4. Getting the garden in place will be the next priority. I've been oogling over beautiful seed catalogs and finally purchased seeds for a few fall and late summer crops that we'll still be able to get in. Garlic, lettuce, spinach, squash, arugula, collards, shallots, onions, ETC. ETC. ETC. will be on the list to plant. We're going to plant the garden here:
Right next to the chicken coop and soon to be rabbit pen. We'll be doing a Back to Eden style garden, which will keep us from backbreaking tilling. Securing a load of wood chips and compost is on the to-do list as soon as possible. A fall garden is a must! You're welcome for the killer graphics, by the way.
5. Maybe this should have been #1, considering we already have purchased 15 hens for backyard egg production. They will need a home as soon as we get there! The hen house is in great condition, though it is in need of a thorough cleaning, fresh bedding, and a few outside roosts. I'm also planning on white-washing the hen house with an inexpensive, traditional, homemade milk paint white-wash to help deter pests and protect the wood. Perk it up a bit, ya know? We'll also build a small rock wall around the bottom edge of the run to help protect further from predators and secure the chicken wire with staples along the top.
6. The right hand side of the coop will be turned into our rabbit pens. Some will be built, lifted off the ground, for the does and the buck. We'd will also build a few small runs, barely off the ground, for the large litters. It's hard to fit 8 kits and a doe all in one cage! Open runs allow them to play and run freely while they fatten. It's a fun set up. Rabbits and chickens make great companions. And there's plenty of room in here for both.
Sadly, our current colony of rabbits will be left in Alabama with our farmer, Chip. The idea of moving 22 rabbits across the country just seemed too silly for us to figure out. They will have a good home here with Chip, who loves animals and will have plenty of fresh forage for them to eat. He will continue to raise them for meat.
I've already cried over the idea of sending them off in the next few weeks, but such is life on a homestead. Animals come and go. It's part of the process.
I'll be looking for a new breeder once we arrive to begin the process over once again. Three does and a buck will get us set up right back on our current system. We do have two rabbits from our first litter that will need to be butchered before we leave, so we will at least be able to follow through the butchering process and will get to enjoy cooking the fruits of our labor! We will likely butcher them next weekend.
Besides the dairy cow, fencing, garden, chickens and hen house projects, and rabbits we have one other goal to complete before fall. That is, to plant the eroding hillside with raspberry and blueberry bushes. Not only will the raspberries help to hold and protect the soil (we will no doubt need to add compost to these areas), but they will also spread out, creating a nice hedge of sorts, and will provide us with delicious berries in a few years. I'd like to get them in before fall so that they have a chance to get established. That way, next spring, they'll come in perky as ever.
Tired yet? Just thinking about it is both exciting and exhausting. Mostly exciting though.
It's an ambitious goal list, no doubt. But it's step one of the process. Hogs, turkeys, fruit trees, grapes, and a large herb garden will soon be following.
This is awesome.