I feel like 2018 is going to be a lean year, focused on saving and only spending on what’s really needed to keep the farmstead running. I’m actually looking forward to getting a little creative with building and repairing and just plain “making-do” in the upcoming year. I’m also looking forward to involving our kids in that process so they can learn a little about being scrappy to get by on limited resources. In our instant-gratification world, I feel like that’s a bit of a lost skill and a discipline we could all improve upon.
Though my project list is lengthy, here are my top 5 goals for our homestead this year:
1. Setup new kidding stalls.
This is a pretty immediate need. I feel fairly confident that at least two Nigerian Dwarf does will be expecting this spring, and I’m hopeful that our LaManchas will be as well. (For more on our goats and spring 2018 kiddings, visit our Sundaze Farm site.) That means potentially 4 does and lots of babies for us. Therefore the need to set up space for each doe to birth and bond with her new kids when the time comes.
Mike has had some very good suggestions for rearranging where our rabbit cages are currently hanging (unused) to free up an extra stall, and I think with the creative use of some extra cattle panels, we should be able to make it work without much cost.
2. Raise meat chickens again.
Our first time raising meat birds was the summer of 2016. We skipped 2017, and I’m regretting it now. I’m looking forward to putting home-raised chicken in our freezer again this year. I’ve been working on trying to find someone locally to process for us. If that falls through, we’ll process ourselves. I’m hoping this year to freeze both some whole chickens as well as some broken-down packages of breasts, thighs, legs/wings, etc.
We’ve also been tossing around the idea of raising a few turkeys. We talked about doing so this past summer, but were hesitant when we saw the cost and order-minimums to get turkey poults via mail. I’m hoping if we start looking earlier in the season that this year we’ll be able to get them from a local feed store or breeder and save ourselves some of the cost of mail ordering.
3. Re-focus on our laying hens.
Over the last couple seasons, the laying hens have been on a sort of auto-pilot. Of course they’re well-fed and cared for, but I haven’t been tracking their production and I’ve been focusing my efforts on milk production with the goats, or meat production from the rabbits or Cornish Cross chickens.
Of course, as winter wears on you’re quickly reminded how many beaks there are to feed, and how very few eggs are coming in return. Don’t get me wrong; I love my hens, but they are not pets. Some of them are past their prime and it’s becoming extremely costly to feed non-productive layers.
Come spring, my plan is to put some real effort into the laying hens again. If we’re going to have them, they need to be productive. Egg sales are one of the easiest homestead products to sell (at least in Pennsylvania), so it’s worthwhile to get going again so it can hopefully offset some costs.
After keeping chickens for almost three years in our current coop setup, I feel like I’ve identified some issues and I’m ready to put some work into a small remodel: I want to deep-clean everything, build new roosts, and instead of makeshift Rubbermaid tote laying boxes, I’m planning to invest in a nest box system like the one pictured above. I’m hoping with those changes, my girls will be set up to be super productive this spring. (And if they still aren’t… well, that makes for some tough decisions, unfortunately.)
If we have the chance and the extra money to get an incubator, I’d also like to try hatching a few eggs from our hens and our lovely Australorp rooster, Ravioli. We could use some new layers, and I think it would be a fun experience for the kids!
4. Plant a garden. (Finally.)
2018 will be the year we finally plant a garden, I swear it! (*shakes fist*)
I feel like I say this every year. I know I believe I’ll do it every year. (I have the seed catalog subscriptions and piles of seeds ordered but never sown to prove it!) We don’t have a lot of money to spend on tools or repairs to our broken hand-me-down rototiller, but I’m going to take inspiration from my friend Justin Rhodes and JUST PLANT.
In an ideal world, what I’m hoping for is to rip out a large section of our flowerbed in the front of our house just off the kitchen, and replace it with an herb garden. Then I’d like to have a large vegetable garden in the back yard. I know better, though — so perhaps it will just be a medium-sized vegetable garden in the back yard for now. (Fingers crossed.)
5. Do even more canning and preserving.
Myles has been on a kick of eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a daily basis recently. I’ve had glimmers of serious homesteader mom-guilt over the fact that I didn’t make any home made jelly or jam last season for him to enjoy.
My biggest canning projects this past year was green beans and tomatoes. They were super successful, but this year I hope to do a lot more. I need to make a list earlier in the season so I can grab things throughout the summer and fall as they come available, instead of rushing at the end of fall to do my best with what’s left.