We’re planning to expand the homestead! We’ll add buildings, plants, and even animals.
To recap, this year we installed a 3700 square food garden. We also expanded the perennial garden and the orchard. Our harvest, paltry as it was compared to the amount we planted, proved that we can keep at least some things alive and get food from them.
Since we avoided abject failure this year, we plan to expand into livestock next year. In this post, I’ll go over what we’re adding. I’ll cover how we’re changing our veggie garden in a later post. Suffice it to say right now that the garden is probably moving from its current site.
Baa, cluck, thump
We need protein sources on our homestead if we want to grow most of our own food. The best protein sources are animals. Whether it’s for milk (and cheese!), eggs, or meat, we need to add livestock to our homestead to provide ourselves a balanced diet.
Sheep are a great multipurpose animal. They can provide milk, meat, and fiber. Since we already have two Australian Shepherds, they’d also provide entertainment. Maybe our dogs would stop trying to herd our giant white van every time we drive up to the house.
We would focus on milk and meat.
Sheep milk isn’t goaty like goat milk can be, though it might have its own distinctive flavor. You can find a good comparison with goat and cow milk on Farmdrop. It also has double the butterfat and protein of cow or goat milk. It’s great for milk products like cheese or yogurt, and we use a lot of both. Have you ever hand Manchego cheese? It’s so good! Though it’s naturally homogenized and won’t make butter, we can fix that by freezing it first to dehomogenize it. Then we get double the butter per gallon of milk!
The downside of using sheep for milk is that they don’t produce as much per animal as goats or cows. However, if we’re going to have a small dual-purpose herd anyhow, how much does it matter?
As far as meat, mutton looks like a good option for winter stews. Fattier cuts might complement rabbit meat well since rabbit meat has essentially no fat.
So far we’re looking at Icelandic sheep. They seem to be common enough in our area. They’re a sturdy breed, which sounds good for first-time sheep owners.
Chickens are another great dual-purpose animal. We’d keep a flock for eggs and a rotating flock for meat. If any of the stable flock gets uppity or nasty, they become part of the rotating flock and off to the butcher block they go! At first, we’d stick to a single breed, like Orpingtons or Barred Rocks, that are pretty good as both laying and meat birds but not the best at either. That way we’d only have one variety to manage just like with the sheep. Both are also hardy breeds–great for first-time chicken owners.
Do you see a trend? We’re picking easy varieties and sticking to one at a time to give ourselves training wheels. Once we learn how to care for that variety well enough, maybe we’d expand.
Jeff’s not as convinced, but I think rabbits might be a good addition to our homestead. From what I’ve read, they have a high feed-to-meat conversion ratio, reproduce prolifically, and are fairly easy to care for. They also don’t take up much space.
But before we jump in…
Before we commit to rabbits and sheep, I’d like to taste rabbit meat, mutton, and lamb. That’s a project for this winter. All of these animal will require a substantial investment in infrastructure. We don’t want to spend a bunch of money unless we’re sure we’ll like the products.
In order to store all the small farm equipment, we really need something besides our garage. And the animals need housing, too. It’s kind of overwhelming to think of all the projects ahead.
First, the shed. Between Jeff’s tractor and all the attachments, it’s hard to navigate a large part of our garage. Once we finally decommission the garden for the year, we’ll also have net fencing and giant tomato cages to store. Pretty soon we won’t be able to get to the other side of the garage without going around outside.
We’re thinking a quonset hut kit on top of a concrete slab might be the best balance between price and durability. It might not be as pretty as a custom design, but it’d work. I think we’ll put it where the garden is now. That way we’d have easy access to it from the driveway for plowing in the winter and we’d create a buffer between a patch of woods on the south side of our property and our garden. We hope a small buffer would help keep the deer away. It’d also be safer to pour a concrete slab there since the truck wouldn’t have squeeze between the solar array and mound system. We certainly don’t want either of those damaged!
As we add livestock, we must also construct a chicken coop and run, rabbit cages, and a shelter for the sheep. The chicken coop and rabbit cages might have to be custom built. I’m not convinced Jeff or I have the construction skills or time to build our own. If that is the case, it gets more expensive. I need to research design a little more. Maybe it’d be worth hiring some childcare and having Jeff take off time to build it ourselves… if we don’t screw it up. The sheep shelter seems pretty straightforward–three sides and a roof, more or less.
I cringe at what all this might cost. We’ve only been able to estimate the cost of the quonset hut and concrete slab. The rest is up in the air.
What’s in store next year?
The short answer is, I don’t know. We’ll try to do as much of this as possible. I think our top priorities will be the shed, chicken coop, and chickens. Chickens seem like a good gateway animal. Sheep would be nice for milk if we can manage it next year.
A lot of this depends on how the rest of 2020 and the early part of 2021 go. If I’m pregnant, plans change because I might not be as useful around the homestead with a giant belly or a newborn (or two). If food prices go up, plans accelerate. Or if Jeff has to retire because Illinois does something stupid with the state employees’ retirement, plans change because I don’t know what our financial situation would be at that point.
If you have any feedback or experience, please share! We’re heading into uncharted territory.