Having grown up in the city without even a pet, 2015 was quite an adventure and adjustment for me. We bought our dog, Molly, in 2014, soon after moving to the country but 2015 was when we started with farm animals.
Chickens arrived in January. We were able to get 30 free chickens from a friend’s Dad who had got 50 layers from a hatchery and then decided he didn’t really need that many eggs. So we agreed to take 30 of them and over several cold winter days we converted our small barn from storage to chicken coop. We used Rubbermaid tubs for nests, turned upside down with an opening cut in the side. I do not recommend doing this. Nests on the floor just get filthy dirty, but we were trying to be economical and fast. Our roosts were just 1×4’s with props under them, in 2 rows along one side of the barn. They worked pretty well for the first 8 months we had the chickens.
For feed, I started with just getting commercial feed and kitchen scraps. Then when summer came the chickens got to be free-ranging all over the acreage. I didn’t lose any chickens to wild animals, our dog is really great at keeping coyotes at bay, just by barking. We did have quite the time trying to find eggs! Occasionally we would come across a stash of eggs hidden in the grass somewhere, perhaps 30-50 of them from a couple weeks of laying. When you get 25-30 eggs a day as I did that summer you don’t tend to miss 3-5 eggs a day for a little while.
In April, our 3 hives of bees that we ordered arrived. Ivan put together pre-made Langstroth hives and also added a layer of high-density insulation foam to the outside of the hives. This is an alternative to wrapping the hives for winter, it allows the bees to still be able to leave the hive for water and other needs on warm winter days and it also helps to insulate against heat in the summer. For more information on how this works, this is the youtube video we used.
In June we bought a dairy goat. Our main motivation for doing so was to provide our 2 children with fresh, wholesome milk. We’ve since discovered other additional uses for the milk and other benefits from the goat. She does keep a good area of grass clear and also enjoys the young weedy saplings that we have such a time trying to clear our property of, and she produces great manure for the garden and orchard.
With the milk we started making yogurt, a simple cheese and kefir. We still make Kefir and enjoy it, but no one really cared for the yogurt or the cheese, so I had quite a surplus of milk. Since I do not have a lot of experience in farming or gardening or animals, and I love to read, I tend to read a lot of books on the different subjects. My book for dairy goats was (and still is) Storey’s Guide to Raising Dairy Goats. In the book, the author mentions the possibility of making soap from extra goat milk and recommends another book, Milk Based Soaps by Casey Makela. It’s not a long read, very easy to understand and with a great traditional goat milk soap recipe to learn from. So we decided, why not? Ivan made the molds and I collected the equipment we needed, then we made soap, and more soap, and more soap! We decided we may as well sell some of our extras and started searching for, and applying to local markets. We started with a Christmas craft show in December and this summer we’ll be selling at our local summer markets.
In mid-summer we also got 3 kittens. We got a little tired of seeing mice every week at least once in our house, and they seemed awfully adept at escaping traps and avoiding bait. So we got cats instead and that has been a success. For a while we watched the cats catch mice in the fall, and then for the entire winter we have been mouse free in our home. The barn is another story. I need to move at least some of our cat population (now 5) out to the barn.
Fall of 2015 brought a rush of projects to get ready for the winter. I didn’t want the goats to continue sleeping outdoors with just prevailing wind and rain shelter but wanted them to be in the barn, along with the milking stand! So, once again, we were out renovating our small barn. We were able to get 2 goat stalls, one small (for kids and/or milking stall)and one large to fit the 2 goats that we will always keep so our dairy goat is not alone. We also were able to still keep the chicken coop in the barn at one end. This way the body heat of the animals is shared between them all and we didn’t have to plug in any heat lamps for the chickens in the winter.
This year things will be different in the chicken department again, as we are planning to slaughter our old hens for meat (anything can be slow-cooked, right?) and get 5-10 birds for laying hens, placed into 2 small portable coops to move around the property every few days rather than having them actually free-range. This will be a nice down size in our flock which will help with lessening the work load in one area as I pick it up in other areas, like getting a buckling to raise to breed our dairy goat with, and doubling the size of my garden.
More on our garden and orchard next week!