Posts Tagged homesteading

Setting Up Your Land To Start A Homestead

When you’re just starting out and setting up your homestead there are a lot of things that you need to think about.  We all have big aspirations of what we want to do on our land, but there is a lot of work that needs to go into it all before we can really do anything.

land to homestead

In some cases we are coming into a piece of property, or our property that we already live on has certain elements, layouts or assets that we need to work with or around.  While I am always looking to capitalize on what I already have in place, I’m also not afraid to make changes or remove something if it doesn’t work in the way I need it to.

Get A Plan In Place

When it comes to setting up your land, I always ask myself a few key questions:

  • What is the land telling me?
  • What are the very specific things I want to do on the land?
  • What are the workflows that are going to happen on the land?
  • How can I reduce effort, improve ergonomics, and make it more efficient?
  • How can I design it to be flexible?

These are some really important questions to ask yourself because if we are just starting out, we can nail these few considerations and make our lives easier, our design will work for us, we will have less frustrations, and we can prevent burnout or injuries.

What Is The Land Telling Me?

take time to listen to the landWhen it comes to setting up land or starting on a new piece of property we need to make some observations before we begin.  If you have the chance, try to live on the land for a year before committing a lot of time or money.  It also gives us time to take a bunch of soil samples and get them analyzed.  That isn’t always possible, but if you can manage it, it’s well worth your time.

By taking the time to see how each season works with the land you’ll understand it’s character.  You’ll learn where the warm sunny spots are and where cold air settles in low spots. You’ll learn where water pools in the rainy season, where it soaks into the ground well and other areas that it just seems to sit on the surface for a long time.  All these things tell you how the land naturally behaves and it’s our job to work with that, not against it.

Two things I’ll do on a new property is in the cooler months, go walking in shorts despite the cold.  This let’s me sense with my legs what parts are warmer or colder than others.  If it starts to rain a whole lot, I’ll put on a rain jacket and go out walking; looking for how the water flows on the land, where it pools, where it gets boggy.  All these things are helpful in your planning.

What Are You Going To Do On The Land?

writing in notebookBefore we even begin to plan what our homestead is going to be like, we need to know what we are going to do on that land.  We can’t figure out a direction to walk if we don’t even know where we are going!  Take the time to be honest about you and your life.  If you’re going to homestead and work a full time job, what can you honestly dedicate to your farmstead when you’re pulling 40 or 50 hours a week?

Plan for your worst day, not your best day.  When you’re tired from work, it’s raining out and very cold in January, what do you want your life on that land to be like on that day where you want to do nothing?  If you plan for that, every other day will be a pleasure and it will make it viable for the long term.

When I was planning my future homestead I realized that a lot of what I thought I wanted to do just didn’t fit with my lifestyle.  I wanted to travel some, not have to wake up at the crack of dawn, and have a place that I could easily keep up so I could relax sometimes.  This meant certain things were ruled out and other things became more realistic.  What life do you want to lead on that land?

What Are The Workflows?

If we are planning to homestead, we are the kinds of people that don’t shy away from hard work, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be smart about our work either.  I started out with a list of everything I wanted to do on my homestead and then broke each one down into that activities and actions that needed to take place for those things to happen.

feeding chickens

We want to be super efficient and be smart about everything we do, because there is never enough time in the day and a little planning up front will pay off big on the back end.  So come up with your list and then start to envision in your mind how you’re going to do everything.  What are you doing, what do you need to do those things, where are you lifting, moving, pulling, pushing.  Play out these things in your mind to figure out how you’re going to do work on your stead.

Reduce Effort, Improve Ergonomics, and Make it More Efficient

We want to be smart about how we get things done on the farm. A really great primer to this way of thinking is 2 second lean principles, which we did a post on.  On our farm, we want to always be looking for ways to be better, work smart and reduce possibility of injury.

An example would be chickens.  Let’s say you want 5 birds in a chicken tractor, in my mind I’d play out a day in the life of taking care of them. I wake up at my normal time and get ready.  I walk out to the tractor, it’s raining outside so the ground is wet. I go to a bin in the garage to get their feed and fill their feeder which is clogged so I have to climb into the tractor, and I drag the hose across the yard to top of the waterer.  I reach into the nesting boxes to get any eggs and I move the tractor a few feet to fresh grass.

improvement on the land

So from this example I’d analyze what work happened and how I might make it better.  Starting out with it’s raining and the grass is wet (remember plan for your worst day) it would be really good if I had some farm boots to wear out to the coop so I don’t get my professional job shoes dirty and wet.  I needed to get some feed, where did that feed come from? Is there a way that I could back my truck right up to where I need to unload it?  Do I have to bend or lift things, is there a way I could reduce it or prevent injuries/strains?

Is there a way to locate the feed and water closer to the chickens?  I might consider if a mobile coop is worth it, or would a fixed coop allow me to run a water line to it and have a little storage area right there to keep feed in and back my truck bed right up to it?  If I have to get in the coop, maybe it’s better to make it 6 feet tall so I don’t have to stoop inside, and how can I set it up so I don’t have to go inside often and cleaning is a breeze?

golden comet chicken

Think through all these things, look for places where a tweak can save your from extra work, walking back and forth, repetitive tasks, or not having things right where you need them.  If we are starting from scratch, let’s make our lives easier!

A Flexible Design

When we are starting, out we are operating under a lot of assumptions and even with careful planning and experience, we may find that our plans need to change.  Being flexible is a huge part of being able to solve problems and as homesteaders at our core, we are good problem solvers.

If I’m spending time to build something, paying money to install something or other big decisions, I ask myself what if I had to move this, change it or expand it? If we ask these things we can think about the future and bring flexibility into our design.

be flexible with your plans

A real good example is running water lines for spigots.  When I ran mine I had the trencher rented for a day. That meant I could keep trenching to add more hydrants.  At that point adding 100 feet more of water line and putting in three more hydrants was very easy and pretty cheap.  Hydrants are $70 each and I can buy a 100 foot roll of pex for $40.  So I ran my water lines where I needed them, then added one in the back corner, one near where I could build another garden bed in the future, and one next to my driveway to wash my car.

Think about if you had to change things, move things and what happens if my plans don’t work.

Access Is Key

There are a few things I always look for when considering land and access is critical. The first step to getting the land to the point where you can live on it is simply being able to access it. This comes in the form of roads, driveways, turnarounds and parking pads.

Before you even think about laying down the road, you must first clear the way, remove trees, level the dirt and make your path to your new home. You have a couple of options: gravel, cement, and asphalt. Gravel is the most economical and I’ve found if you know how to build a gravel drive properly it can last for a long time.

road access to land is important

Always go bigger than you think you need. You want to make sure that you can easily fit a dump truck, cement truck or trailer and have good places to park and turn around for the bigger vehicles and trailers.  I would also clear 4 to 5 feet on either side of the driveway and grade it somewhat. When you open up the woods you’ll find that trees start to push into the opening as they make a bid for sunlight, this will give you a buffer so you don’t instantly need to start cutting it back.  I give myself this buffer so I can just run a bush hog down either side and make quick work of it.

If you can get your water, sewer, internet, phone and power installed before you put down your final grade of gravel, you’ll save yourself a lot of work in many cases.  I’ve had it where the power company came in and said they would put in the line for free, but they needed to trench right down the middle of the drive.  If you allow 4-5 feet on either side, you can give yourself room to trench utilities into the property without tearing up your road and make it easier when repairs are needed.  I always try to put my sewer on one side of the road and drinking water on the other. For power lines if buried, I try to put power on one side of the road and data/phone on the other so there is no EM interference.

Here is a video of the installation of my road, turnaround and parking pad. Note I had a much easier time because there used to be an old dirt road in this location, so it was simply a matter of cleaning it up and leveling it out. The whole process took about 6 hours of hard work.

Infrastructure

There are a few things that are critical to actually making a piece of land or a home viable, this all comes down to installing critical infrastructure right off the bat and doing it the right way.  This is one of those things that doing it half measured is not going to cut it.  The saying is “buy one, cry once” and when it comes to getting your infrastructure in, this couldn’t be truer.

Water

No matter what you’re going to do or how you’re doing it, you need to have a very reliable, high quality water source that brings it right to where you need it.  I have seen people who tried to save a few bucks, had a water truck deliver water to them, do water catchment, try something alternative or temporary and it never works out.  If you can get tied into a municipal water line or have a good well dug for you, I’d save up for it or skip that land.  Water is life and you can’t compromise on it, you’ll just end up frustrated, broke, and doing it the right way like you should have the first time.

water connection

For water I am connected to the city water. The meter and installation cost me $2,200 (city sets price), but that is only from the water main to the closest edge of your property. You then need to connect it from there to your house, which, for me, was $700 for materials, $800 for ditch witch rental, and $1500 for a plumber to do all the connections, fittings and other tasks.  For running water lines; once you have your main connections you can do most of the work yourself and it isn’t too difficult if you’re willing to work hard.  I used PEX water line and ring crimps, buried below the frost line and frost proof hydrants for hose connections.

While you have your trencher, go ahead and future proof your system, put in a few extra connections, make sure you bury everything below the frost line and I’d recommend not using PVC or Poly Tube; go with PEX, it’s much more durable and cheap too!

Power

Having power is another major consideration you need to make.  In some cases getting tied into grid power can be expensive. Other times they will run the power line for free.  This is one of those things that I’d save up for and do it right the first time.  I currently live off the grid with my power, getting it only from my solar panels, but there are times where a grid connection would be nice.

tiny house solar panels

Heating (air, stove/oven, water heater)  and cooling take around 60%-80% of a home’s power consumption, the rest is all pretty easy.  If you’re going more off grid, starting out smaller is better and making sure your system can scale.  Check out my post on how I set up solar for my home here.

Since we are on a homestead consider if you need certain special hook ups like a 220 volt outlet for a welder, a 50 amp plug for a tiny house or camper, or running power to different parts of the yard where you need it.  Again, when you’re trenching it’s often just a little extra work and a few hundred dollars to add extra hook ups.  When I trench for power I try to put it on the edges and go a little deeper so I don’t have to worry about hitting the line with a tiller.

Places to consider to run power are: to your outbuildings or workshops for tools, finding things in storage or for those late nights of work.  I’ll also make sure I have lighting to illuminate areas I have animals really well; in case a predator is lurking I can flip on some really bright lights to spot them quickly.  In some cases it’s good to have power near the pens and paddocks so you can power a waterer to stop from freezing, a power washer for cleaning or corded tools for repairs.

I’ll also light areas for my infrastructure: a well, septic pumps, driveways, and other areas that if something breaks down I can flip on a good light to see what I’m doing while I fix it. Additionally consider some motion detection lights so that if someone wanders on to your property it will light them up and keep thieves at bay.

All these things can be done more easily ahead of time with some planning and for a cheaper cost since you already have trenchers or trades people on site.

Sewage

There are a few ways to handle this, it mainly depends on your local laws, so be sure to check with your township on what the rules are.  For many it will either be a septic or city connection.  In some cases you may be using a composting toilet or even an outhouse; these are often subject to local laws so make sure you know what you can and cannot do.

Internet/Phone

internet on the homesteadWhile this may not be at the top of musts for most people I like to include it here because often when you’re setting up everything else, it’s a good time to get this setup as well.  Having a connection to the outside world will allow you to set up security cameras to keep an eye on things while you’re away, or may allow you to work from home or remotely for better job opportunities.  Your homestead may start selling things and online order, customer emails/call and website stuff are easier when you have a connection.  Finally in many rural areas cell phone signal isn’t great, so being able to watch a YouTube video or call for help is a consideration.

Outbuildings, Animal Shelters And Storage

With any property you’ll need a place to put things, store things, or covered areas to work on things that you don’t want inside your house.  For me I have a place to keep all my tools, gardening supplies, lumber and things I need to work the land.  If you have animals, they’ll need housing appropriate to them. You’ll need storage for feed and hay, and other things to raise those animals.

If you have equipment like lawn mowers, tractors, generators etc you want to make sure those can be kept out of the elements. These expensive pieces of equipment can be made to last a lot longer if they aren’t subjected to the rain or snow.

Fencing

One major cost that people don’t anticipate is fencing.  If you have a large property a good fence around the perimeter is a large cost even if you do it yourself.  I try to get my fencing setup so I can run a bush hog or mower on either side of it while still being on my property.  This will make maintenance easier, define your property line, and allow you to walk or ride along it regularly to make sure no breaks have happened.

fencing your land

So those are some things you need to consider when it comes to setting up your land for a farm, a homestead, or a tiny house.  Keep our basic tenants of learning from the land, having a solid plan, focusing on work flow and staying flexible and you’ll have a great piece of land that will work for you.

Your Turn!

  • What are you plans for starting a garden, farm, or homestead on some land?
  • What have you learned at tips and trick when setting up your land?

How To Start Homesteading On A Budget

Ever since I was a very young kid, I knew that I wanted to have a little place of my own, to own land were I could enjoy being outside.  That never feeling never left through the years.  So starting a homestead, finding a place for your tiny house or just a little piece to call your own can seem really challenging at times.

how to start a homestead on a budget

For some they just want to start homesteading right where they are, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to do it. For others is just finding the time to make it happen.

So what are we supposed to do when we’re on a budget and all we want to do is start building a life for ourselves?

Get Clear On Your Goals

writing in notebookThe biggest mistake I see people make is they haven’t really defined what they want to do in 1 year, 5 years and so on.  When you get very clear on what you want, you can quickly determine what you actually need in your future stead and where you are going.  Too often people don’t set goals which means they are getting pulled in a million directions.

If you actually write out your goals you gain clarity and you will have a standard to evaluate how you spend your time and resources.  When you have clear goals you can ask yourself “does this get me closer to my goals?”   If the answer is yes, then you should pursue it.  If the answer is no or maybe, then you should say no to whatever it is.

Having goals means you don’t waste money on things that you don’t need and focus the money you do have on hand to the things that will actually let you do what you want to do.  Too often people spend money on things they think they want, but haven’t taken the time to determine if that’s right for them.

Simplify Your Life

Closely tied with my last point, work to actively encourage things in your life that are aligned with your goals, then reject everything else.  This can be difficult, but with some practice and keeping your eye on the prize you can cut out all the stuff that doesn’t matter.

simplify your life quote

From there look at ways to make every day easier and less complicated.  Declutter your home, regain control over your calendar, cut out unnecessary expenses and focus on what matters to you.  This is a long process, but as you bring the important things into focus and remove the things that eat up your time that don’t matter, you’ll find you have more time, less stress, and life seems to flow better.

Take The Long Road

It can be tempting to make the leap now, but if we accept that this is a journey and we need to sort things in our life before we get to our destination.  We realize that we’re putting in the hard work to make our dream possible so that when we do arrive, we are able to really enjoy it fully.  If we rush through it we’ll start homesteading stressed, in debt, and being pulled in a million directions.

take the road less traveledSome of the biggest goals I’ve achieved were only enjoyed because I worked on everything as I made my way there.  When I moved into my tiny house I wanted to have a simpler life, less clutter from possessions, on my way to being debt free and in a really good place in my life and career. If I hadn’t worked to make those things a reality, the experience of going tiny would have been very stressful.

The other thing to know is that a lot of what you want to do requires a lot of new knowledge and experience, which you can start gathering now!  Choose the areas you want to focus on first (goal setting) and find a way to learn more about those areas.  It could be checking a book out of the library, it could be making friends with a local farmer or homesteader and asking if you can help out for free.

A lot of what I learned was from a farmer who I helped weed beds.  As we moved along his raised beds, I would ask lots of questions and we’d talk about various things on his farm that I wanted to know more about.  It was a big help to him, I learned a lot and it filled the time while we were weeding.

Starting Your Homestead Where You Are

For many people when they get really clear on their goals and realize that the whole thing is a journey, they realize that the land they are on is actually a really good place to start for them for where they are in their journey.  Most of us just starting out don’t have many of the skills needed to run a full fledged homestead, so starting small is perfect because we can build our skills so we can later apply them to a larger piece of land.

gardening in your back yard

Start with baby steps as you build out your homestead and if you don’t own the land, consider how you can develop the land in ways that you can take them with you when you upgrade or move.  Portable infrastructure is key when you don’t own your land or the land you’re on is a stepping stone to your final destination.  Things like water systems, shelters for animals, fencing, and even garden beds all can be made to move if need be.

So look around where you are right now, could you start a raised bed?  What about container gardening?  Is there a way you could buy two chickens and learn the ins an outs of raising them?  Be open to possibilities and bring creativity to your situation.

Buying Land With Little Or No Money

For many of us it’s all about finding some land we can call our own.  Land can be very expensive and while we want to grow things, money isn’t one thing we can grow in our gardens.  So how can we buy land without much money?

Rent To Own

rent to own signMost of us are paying something right now for wherever we are living.  It could be rent or a mortgage, but whatever the case is, we actually do have money, it’s just not allocated in the right direction.   What if we were to find some land where we could start renting now and the rent goes towards ownership?

There are many landlords that will consider this, especially when they’ve been trying to sell it for a long time or it’s bare land.  This is sometimes referred to as “owners financing”.  The beauty of this is we often can get in on a property that has potential, but requires some elbow grease for very little down.  Sometimes you can start with nothing down.

If you play your cards right, you can find a piece of land that’s right for you at the same cost of your old mortgage or monthly rent.  If you were spending $500 a month, work the deal to pay the owner $500 a month.  The downsides to this approach are that the owner will often use a higher interest rate than normal and if you default on the payments, you lose it all.  So make sure you have money saved for a rainy day.

Get A Land Loan

Land loans are harder to come by these days, but there are a few credit unions and smaller banks that will still do them.  You’re typically looking at about 2% more interest than going mortgage rates.  This was an option I explored and was able to find financing options through the Farmers Credit Union which had USDA backing.

I don’t typically advocate taking on debt, but there are sometimes that it is the only realistic option.  Houses, land and for some cars are the only way they could achieve this.  If you go this route, make sure you have a good handle on your finances, you’ve paid down all your debt and you have 3-6 months of expenses saved in case of job loss.  This isn’t something you want to mess around with.

Stretch The Money You Do Have

One thing to consider is that land is often expensive, but if we are willing to make a move we can consider areas that land is cheaper.  If you have $15,000 in California, you’re not going to find any options, but if you were open to Montana, you might find some really good deals.  Combined this with a rent to own arrangement and you can get some really nice land for what you have on hand.

The two caveats with this is to make sure that you can still find employment in those areas, if you can remote work you can be pulling in big city pay checks while having small town bills.  The other thing is to try it before you buy it, just because it’s the right price may not mean it’s a place you like to live.

So consider renting for a year and use the time to get to know the area, the people and the lifestyle.  You can use this time to get a lay of the land, understand where you might want to live better and build connections that could help you on your journey.

Rent Land

In more rural locations, especially those where farming is common, renting land by the year is very common.  Many people will use this as a way to expand their farm without buying expensive property.  In some places $50 per acre per year is quite common, you just need to make sure that you are able to move everything if the situation changes.

So those are some of the options you can consider when trying to find land.  It isn’t easy, but with some creativity, hard work and perseverance you can make owning land a reality.

Your Turn!

  • How have you figured out a way to find your own land?
  • Where are you at with your journey?

How To Build A Chicken Coop

When you’re starting out with chickens you need to have a place to lock them up at night.  Building a chicken coop will be one of the first thing you need to do before you order your chicks or pick up some pullets (young hens).  I love how chickens just naturally gravitate to their little home when the sun starts to go down, roosting inside all on their own.

how to build a chicken coop for your chickens

The coop is an important part of your plan to keep your birds safe from predators that lurk in the night.  So we want it to be a sturdy structure that keeps the bad things out, the chickens in, provides a place for them to nest and lay their eggs.  First a few bits of terminology so you can get caught up to speed if you’re new.

  • Roost: a bar that chickens sit on and sleep on at night
  • Run: the fenced in area that chickens walk around during the day
  • Nesting Box: a separate area where hens sit to lay eggs in
  • Hardware Cloth: metal mesh that has very small openings
  • Bedding: saw dust, wood chips, hay or saw

So those are some of the basic terminology, now let’s get into some of the details.

The Coop

my chickens in my gardenYou can build the coop out of whatever building materials you have on hand or repurpose shelters to suit your needs.  When I built my coop I just went and bought a few sheets of plywood, created a box and sealed the entire inside.  Whatever you build it out of, the coop needs to be about 2 square feet of floor space for each chicken you have.  Much more than 2-3 feet per bird assuming they have more room to range during the day doesn’t do much because they all like to pile on a roost and cuddle up with each other anyway.

Height wise I usually build the coop so that I can easily clean it and room for at least 2 feet above the upper most roost.  If I have a lot of chickens I’ll make sure whatever it is, I can stand up straight if I need to go inside.

For the floors of my coop the biggest piece of advice is to make the inside as easy to clean as possible, really think ahead on this part.   I design mine so all the corners inside are not 90 degrees and no little nooks.  To do this I build my coop, then lay in a 2×2 cut at an angle so when I lay it in with glue all my corners are 45 degrees, which is much easier to clean.

Once I have my coop inside done I always sealed with a super heavy polyurethane. I coat every surface several times, making sure to soak it into the corners.  I put several layers on all surfaces then let it dry.  Next I focus on adding more layers to floor and the first foot of the walls.  You want a super thick layer of poly covering every inch of your floor and sealing every crevice and seam.

I let the whole thing dry and off gas for at least a few weeks.  If you build your coop before you even order your chicks, you’ll have a lot of time for all the fumes to escape by the time the chicks are grown up and ready to be put in the coop.

Roost Bars

chicken on roost in coopA roost is just a bar that chickens like to sit on, usually about a foot or so off the floor of the coop or ground.  I’ve had chickens that all piled onto a single bar leaving several empty and then I’ve had others that didn’t use them at all.  I usually add them because it seems like most chickens like to roost because it makes them feel a little safer.  The top most roost is often taken up by the alpha hen and the rooster if you have one, but some flocks don’t get too tied up in pecking order.

The roost bars can be branches cut from your woods or a 2×4.  You want your roost to be about 2 inches wide and not metal if you can help it.  You want a flat level surface around 2 inches wide because chickens like to sleep flat footed.  They can grip if they need to though.

Ventilation

Many first time coop builders forget that coops need to breath, even if you live in very cold climates.  This is because their droppings put off a lot of moisture and ammonia, so you want a way for that to vent well.  You want to make sure that there is at least some ventilation, but make sure it hardware cloth over it so predators can’t get in. The rule of thumb is around 1 square foot of ventilation per 10 square feet of floor space in the coop.

Nesting Boxes

You want one nesting box for every 3-4 hens you have.  All a nesting box needs to be is a small more enclosed area roughly 1 cubic foot in size with some hay on the bottom.  I’ve done everything from milk crates to 5 gallon buckets on their side.  Just make sure you can easily get into the nesting box to grab the eggs as they are laid and they you can clean them easily.

Make sure you can see well into your nesting boxes because sometimes you find things other than hens in them.  Here is a black snake that snuck into my nesting box.  The joke was on him though, that egg was a plastic egg that we were using to teach the hens to use the nesting box.

snake in nesting box

A Chicken Door

This door only has to be about a single square foot, maybe a foot and a half tall so that a single chicken can come and go into the coop.  The door should be able to be closed up tight at night with a lock that raccoons or other critters can open.  Some people build in a sliding door that operates on a motor with a special sensor that closes when the sun goes down.

golden comet chicken

When I did my permanent coop I had it so the chicken door opened directly into a fenced in chicken run.  The run was covered too and the whole thing tied into the coop itself so that I didn’t have to be there each night to lock the door.  Even if you have your coop in a protected run like I did, its still good to have a door because sometimes you want to shut them up in coop for you to clean things or if a predator is spotted.

A Light

Many people put lights for some heat in the colder months.  Unless you are in a very cold part of the world, I wouldn’t suggest this.  Experience has shown me that if you put a light in a coop and then one night it gets broken or burns out, you’ll end up loosing all your chickens.  I live in North Carolina and for many parts of the US I wouldn’t worry about it.  For colder parts of the US, I’d just build a bigger coop so you can keep them inside for a week if you have to when it’s super cold.  Chickens are pretty hearty.

lights in a coop

The last parts of a coop are your nesting boxes for the chickens to lay their eggs in (usually one box per 3-4 birds) and some sort of bedding to catch droppings from.  Chickens put out a lot of droppings and they tend to concentrate under the roost bars.  However you plan to handle droppings, make it bomb proof because it can get messy quickly and if you build your coop to easily clean out, you can make your life a lot easier.

Chicken Tractors

Many people who want to get into chickens want to try a mobile chicken tractor, which is basically a coop with no bottom that you move to fresh grass every few days.  I’ve done both a fixed coop and chicken tractors and I think chicken tractors are my favorite because it cuts down on the cleaning (no floors, the chickens just poop on the grass) and it reduces the amount of feed I need to buy.

Here is my old chicken tractor:

chicken tractor

There are a few things you need to consider if you decide to go the chicken tractor.  Whatever coop you design it should be able to be moved easily by the smallest person in your household, it makes it difficult if only some of the people can actually move it each day.  As you can see above there are wheels on this tractor, I later switched them to larger wheels because some of the bumps and lumps in the grass would catch the edge of the coop or the wheels.

Consider where you’re going to store feed and how you’ll get water to them.  Where is the closet storage spot?  Where is the closet spigot and will your hose reach to the far corner of the yard?hens and a rooster

Finally make sure you have enough room, if you have more than a few chickens you’ll need to move that coop most days so that the chickens do remove all the vegetation in that one spot to the point that it can’t bounce back.  You want the grass to get roughed up a bit, but no more.  This will let the grass bounce back and grow stronger.  Having enough space is easier in the summer months because things grow so quickly, but in the winter you may find that a spot where the chickens were takes 30-60 days to heal.

Waters

There are three main types of water devices for chickens: Bell, nipple and standard waterer/fountain.  Larger operations tend to use the bell style, I don’t have much experience with those.  The older style of waterer or fountains work pretty well, but I’ve found they get dirty pretty easily.  That leaves my favorite type of waterer which is the nipple style.

chicken waterers

These are just a little valve with a shinny metal tab sticking out that the chickens peck at to get water.  Sometimes you need to show your chickens how to use them, I just take one or two of them and hold it right in front of the nipple.  Basically chickens see something shinny, peck at it and get wet.  Eventually they figure it out and the rest of the flock follows suit.

The nipples are cheap and can be installed into a 5 gallon bucket or into a run of pvc pipe.  This means I can do long runs of these that are tied into a water system so I can set it up for several days of water without any extra work.  An important side note is that you can’t uses these on chicks.

Feeders

There are several types of these, I still haven’t found a favorite type, so let me know what has worked for you in the comments.  I am looking for something that will feed the chickens easily for a few days automatically.  Right now the best option is a vertical PVC pipe about 6″ wide with a opening cut at the bottom.

So that’s some of the key things you need to work into your design when you build your own coop.  Let me know what you plan to do for yours in the comments!

Your Turn!

  • What kind of coop do you hope to build?
  • What tricks have you learned?

What You Should Know About Prepping and Homesteading

Scenes of ramshackle cabins in the secluded woods flash on your screen featuring characters that remind you of Grizzly Adams. He hunts and forages all of his food and cooks it over the campfire while muttering about living off of the land.

Next on your watch list is Survivor Bob. He has preps stashed in the forest, a carefully curated survival kit on his back and lives in a missile silo. He can lock his doors and not resurface for two years if an asteroid hits Washington and the government collapses.

off-grid living

Both prepping and homesteading have been popular on television lately and have gained a lot of attention from the media; but what is prepping? What is homesteading? What are the pros and cons of each?

Homesteading starts as a mindset that says “I can produce that!” rather than feeding the machine of consumerism. It is a movement of self-reliance. It includes everyone from the apartment dweller who cans produce purchased from the farmer’s market to the off-grid, self-sustaining farmer.

Prepping is also based on self-reliance. But rather than the lifestyle of a producer, their focus is one that prepares for one or more catastrophic events that propel them into a survival scenario.

survival

There are positives to each way of thinking, and the line between them is often blurred.

Many homesteaders are motivated by perceived changes and threats in the world and want to be prepared to live without the commercial supply line. More and more, peppers are realizing that stockpiling two years of MREs is not sustainable and have begun learning traditional homestead skills.

What can we learn from homesteaders?

Fall gardening

  • How to grow your own food
  • Self-reliance rather than an entitlement mentality
  • How to be frugal and make the most of our resources
  • A can-do-attitude and a desire to gather and learn new skills
  • Simple living

What can we learn from preppers?

  • Being well equipped for an emergency.
  • How to stock up on first aid supplies.
  • Have a plan if you are forced to leave home in a survival situation.
  • Survival is often a mental game. Peppers have played out scenarios in their mind so that they can quickly and accurately react.
  • You can prep no matter where you live.

 

There are pros and cons to every decision we make in life. Carefully weighing them out is vital. The debate about whether prepping or homesteading is superior is foolish and divisive and needs to end!

Learning lessons from each other is essential to life; no two people are alike. Think of this as a spectrum rather than two separate lifestyles. Find where you fit and make the most of it!

I fall more in the category of a homesteader than a prepper but find myself inspired to keep more emergency supplies on hand when I talk to my prepping friends. We face the possibility of significant winter storms that could have us holed up in the house for a couple of weeks at a time. If we aren’t prepared for that, it could be a dangerous scenario.

 

What are the pitfalls of homesteading?

  • Very labor intensive.
  • Not sustainable in poor health.
  • What if an emergency forced you to leave your homestead?

How does prepping fall short?

  • Can become too focused on prepping to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily living.
  • What happens when the preps run out?
  • Eating MREs for two years is less than satisfying.

Are you Grizzly Adams, living off-grid, or are you Survivor Bob, ready for a major catastrophe? Be inspired by both. Stop and smell the fresh herbs on your window sill and then take a hard look at what you can learn from your prepping or homesteading friends.

Your Turn!

  • Are you a prepper or a homesteader?
  • What skills or preps do you want to add to your current lifestyle?

5 Things Most People Get Wrong About Being A Homesteader

You envision this perfect homestead, chock full of adorable animals, lush gardens and delicious meals at the end of a long day on the farmstead.  It’s human to think the grass is greener on the other side, to think that the simple way of life is the ticket to a happy life, but experience has shown that people get many things wrong about homesteading.  Here is my list of 5 things most people get wrong:

Growing all your own food

garden beds

You hear this time and time again, “I’m going to grow all my own food!”  The tough pill to swallow for many first time homesteaders is that you simply can’t do it all.  Talk to any seasoned homesteader and they’ll tell you they can meet many of their needs, but not all of them.  Common things are items that can’t be grown in your climate, or that require special equipment to process or things that aren’t cost effective.

cost to grow wheat flourSome examples:  For me in my climate, North Carolina, its very difficult to grow good citrus without a lot of headache. Another example, is flour. Flour is possible for you to grow and process with about 2,000 square feet per person for a year’s worth of flour. But, I can buy the same amount of flour for much less.  I took a look at my local big box, and a name brand organic flour costs $1.22 a pound!

The truth is you will never be able to learn the intricacies of every plant, animal and farm. Good, and even great, farmers have bad crop years.  You can grow a sense of community by growing and trading a crop that you’re good at.

Homesteading isn’t an inexpensive way of living

While some cost savings can be had, I attribute most of the cost savings to a mental shift in how you use money.  A lot of homesteaders keep deep pantries to take advantage of sales when they buy. Most homesteaders are DIYers when it comes to fixing things, they buy used, and other cost-saving behaviors.  The truth is, you can adopt these habits now, in the city, and save big.  When it comes to homesteading, the cost savings is negligible because you need land, equipment, materials and feed.

An example:  University of Wyoming did a study on raising your own beef vs buying retail. The difference?  You save $235 dollars on that meat per cow.  But if you factor in time and say you, on average, spent 5 minutes tending that cow per day (very low if we are realistic), average time to butchering is around 2 years, that’s 60.8 hours of time ($3.86 per hour). The average hourly wage in the US is around $24 per hour, that means I could work a side gig for a week and eclipse that: 10 hours vs 2 years of work and not able to take a vacation.

It’s a lot harder than you think

You may have dabbled with things here and there, but until you take the leap you don’t understand what its truly like.  I remember the first year I went from two 4×8 beds to 1/3 acre; from 64 square feet to 14,500 square feet.  With the growth I added a few labor saving items: timer drip irrigation, a standup broad fork and push precision seeder.

That summer was one of the hardest gardening years of my life.  Everything was brought to another level of labor and when something went wrong, it went wrong in a big way.  Even the good things were tough.  I remember one day harvesting 350 lbs of produce in July. It was 95 degrees and so humid the air felt thick.  I got it all harvested, washed, processed and stored, then collapsed on my couch and didn’t wake up until the next morning.

You’ll probably still need a job off the homestead

There are a lot of costs that you can offset by running a homestead. You can barter, trade, and earn money from your wares, but its very difficult to go cold turkey from a steady paycheck.  This isn’t to say it’s not possible, but its very, very difficult.  Take it from me, someone who made the leap from full time traditional to self employment, it’s hard. It took me about 5 years to fully make the leap.

One of the biggest advantages to homesteading with a job is health insurance and a retirement plan.  I’m going to avoid the politics on this, but right now for just me at the cheapest health plan available ($7,500 deductible), I pay $5,400 a year as a young healthy guy with no medications.   My self-employed friends with families are paying around $23,000 a year for the same plan that I have.

So, if you have two adults in your household, there are advantages to having at least one of them working a traditional job.

You think independence will be great – you’re wrong, it’s awesome!

I have had conversations with friends who live what most would call a “typical” life, and they try to understand what it’s like to live outside the norm.  You try to explain it and you try to share what it’s really like and how clear it has become to you. The movie The Matrix tries to explain it with the blue pill or red pill metaphor, but until you actually take that blue pill and your eyes are opened, you cannot possibly grasp the gravity of your old life.  It’s absolutely true.

desing your life

I don’t even know how to put it into words, how profoundly different my life is now that I’ve taken that leap. I’ve become self-employed, live in a tiny house and living a life on my terms!

 

Your Turn!

  • What surprises have you found in your own journey?
  • What appeals to you about homesteading?
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