Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders

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I’ll be the first to admit that when we first started our homesteading journey, we made a lot of rookie mistakes. We spent to much on things we didn’t need. Then we turned around and didn’t buy things we really should have. We skipped around when adding animals, buildings and tools. That is, until we learned to prioritize better. We have learned a lot of lessons the hard way. Starting a homestead from scratch, and building all our own infrastructure, is much harder than I had ever imagined it could be. Hopefully writing this all down will help you avoid a few of the mistakes we made!

Rookie Mistakes We Made As Beginning Homesteaders - Sled Dog Slow

Our biggest rookie mistake was not planning anything.

Sure we had ideas for what we wanted to do, and we wrote things down, but we never really had a set plan. There was no “house goes here, chickens go here, garden goes here” kind of plan. Not until we had already put the chickens too close to the house. So as we expanded we just threw things where it was convenient right then, rather than were we knew we wanted them permanently. If we had planned better we could have saved ourselves from a lot of the other mistakes. A homestead planning binder is necessary to keep everything organized.

Another mistake we made was jumping in to new things without preparing.

We’d get an idea and go for it. More chickens? Heck yeah. Pigs? Lets do it! Greenhouse and garden? Check! And then the inevitable fail. We wanted everything to work and be productive right away. Kyle was so disappointed to find out our chickens wouldn’t lay until the spring after we purchased them. At least we were able to push our pig order back to this summer, and have learned enough to hold off on beehives and other animals until next year.

We didn’t understand the weather in our new area well either.

Personally, coming from a desert area, I didn’t truly understand what living in a rainforest meant until we were hit by our first rainy season here. A little drowned garden and a lot of mud later, know I know how wet it can be! It also helps to know where the low spots collect so we can avoid building there. We also thought we were prepared for long winters, but they are much longer and darker than I could have imagined!

Also, we made the mistake of not budgeting from the beginning.

We have spent so much money on materials for our homestead, when we should have just invested in a saw mill from the beginning. Small purchases can add up really quickly. We should have figured out sooner that just because something is new doesn’t make it better. At least we have a few places we know to go for cheap homestead goods now!

The biggest lesson we’ve learned in starting our homestead from scratch is that it’s okay to go slow.

There is no reason to push to the point of injury to get everything done in one day. Pacing yourself in the endless work (it is endless) of beginning a homestead is extremely important. There should always be a realistic timeline for goals to be completed. This will save so much frustration down the line.

All things aside, we are still learning on our homestead journey. I’m sure there will be many more mistakes and lessons for us in the future!

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When A Hen Is A Rooster Is A Hen

When A Hen Is A Rooster Is A Hen - SledDogSlow.com
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When we started our flock of chickens we had 35, we currently have 8. Alaska is harsh, our dog, Link, is harsher. We had seven hens, two adult roosters, and one baby rooster until recently when our adult roosters “The Bobs” disappeared. I mean no trace, just gone. I have no idea what took them, but there have been lynx, coyotes, eagles, and foxes all seen in this vicinity so any number of predators could be the culprit.

Since our roos absence, one of our hens, Hobbles, has started taking on the characteristics of a rooster. She’s gained a lovely tail, larger and redder comb and wattle, and is now crowing in the mornings!

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You can see here that The Bobs, on the left and right, have much bigger tails, combs and wattles than Hobbs in the center.

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Hen’s will grow male plumage for two reasons. Once reason being if there is no rooster around to lead the flock, the hen at the top of the pecking order may start playing the part of a rooster. These hens will sometimes loose the male plumage and return to female coloring after their next molt.

Hens can also become roos if their ovary is damaged (they only have one working one to begin with). With a damaged ovary hens stop producing enough estrogen (the female hormone), so their body “switches on” the underdeveloped ovary and it turns into a male sex organ called ovotestis. Ovotestis can produce sperm but it is unknown if sperm from a switched roo can actually fertilize an egg. These roosters will never return to hen plumage or lay eggs anymore.

This is a fairly rare occurrence, some people raise chickens for years and never see it happen. The reverse, a rooster becoming a hen, has also been said to occur as well, and is even more unusual. I’ll be interested to see if Hobbs returns to her female plumage once our baby roo, Agent J, grows up enough to take over the flock!

Bonus picture: Hobbs and Ophelia, who stayed a hen.

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The Great Chicken Massacre

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Unfortunately we arrived home from visiting friends yesterday to find proof of a chicken massacre all over camp. And we knew exactly who the culprit was…

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Have you ever come home to your dog and known he did something wrong while you were gone? They get that look and watch you until you figure out why they look so guilty. Well Link definitely had that look. It’s the “I know I was bad” look. The “I’m sorry I pooped on the kitchen floor” look. Only this time it was the “I’m sorry I killed half your chickens for fun” look.

Link is just one of those dogs that you can’t seem to keep tied up. He has broken out of two heavy duty harnesses, backs out of collars and simple harnesses, and breaks metal leads meant for dogs twice his size! He has also never paid any attention to the chicks except to try and eat their feed. After being introduced to the chicks and told they weren’t his he left them alone. Even when they walked right by him he never looked up. He’s been left unsupervised with them for short periods of time and been fine. So when Kyle and I had to leave yesterday we thought we’d tie up Ronan and leave Link free. That is the most costly mistake we’ve made out here, and we wont be doing it again.

When we came home we found several injured birds, a few slobbered ones, and half of our flock spread around camp deceased. It really was a giant chicken massacre. I was so sad and angry yesterday that I couldn’t even write about it.

And even more bad news is that chick orders are done for the year here. So what we’ve got is what we’ve got for now (except for my roosters which are on back order). I’ll be keeping an eye on craigslist in case anyone is getting rid of any chickens, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll get more this year.

And as for Link? Now he’s going to have to be kenneled any time we leave, as well as over night. I hate leaving the dogs in kennels for extended periods, but the chickens are our food. And since Link is more predator than protector where they are concerned, he’s failed miserably in his homestead job. So he’ll just have to deal with the kennel until I’ve worked with him enough to trust him with them. Unfortunately that may be never since he flipped from ‘not interested’ to ‘chase and kill’ in one unsupervised day. (Update: We used this training method on Link with the birds he killed and he hasn’t gone near them since!)

Poor chickens. We’re gonna miss you.

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Building A Chicken Coop For (Almost) Free

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Today we finished our 3′ x 5′ chicken coop (yay!) and were able to move our thirty two chicks out of the green house. I know a 3′ X 5′ seems a little small for thirty two chickens, but they are all under a month old right now and have plenty of space. And fifteen of them are meat birds so they won’t be living in the coop to long. We made a stockade style “cabin” chicken coop as we needed to clear some trees anyway. We were able to come up with quite a few 4 ft long pieces roughly the same diameter. So then we picked a spot and Kyle started digging!

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We decided to dig down roughly a foot to bury the ends of the logs into the ground. Any critters that try to burrow under should be discouraged by hitting the logs. The chicken coop isn’t bear proof, but our biggest asset for chicken protection will be our dogs and they’ve already chased away bears. Eagles and martin are also a concern, especially as they will be free range chickens. But between the dogs and the rooster we’re hopeful that most of the birds will survive this winter.
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Kyle used scrap 2 x 3’s to attach all the logs together as this made them easier to stand up in the hole so we could bury the ends. received_10154350999282899 received_10154350978332899 received_10154350989092899

We also used left over plywood for the roof of the coop.

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Kyle used the chainsaw to create some nesting platforms, which we attached to sticks at the corners of the coop. There are only 3 of them, but every time I’ve had chickens before they all laid eggs in the same spot no matter how many nests they were given.

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Right now we are using a piece of plywood that lifts out as a temporary door until we can get a better piece of material.
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We threw some wind barrier up around it and some tar paper over the top (don’t worry, there are vent holes and a real roof is coming!). And ta-da! An almost free, mostly land provided chicken coop!

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Now all of our chicks have been moved inside and seem to be quite happy. Tomorrow will be their first supervised “free range” experience. I’m going to run some chicken wire around the clearing the coop is in and use sticks to stake it down. The dogs have been introduced; Ronan loves to watch Chick TV and Link likes chicken feed. Because neither have tried to eat any chicks yet I’m hopeful they will be content to just watch them run around in a larger area. Fingers crossed!

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4 Wheeler Appreciation

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So the last few weeks have been really hard. Our 4 wheeler’s drive shaft broke, and while we were driving on the beach too! We pushed it as close to the cliff face as possible and trekked the 5 miles back home. Kyle then went back at the next low tide and managed to get it to the truck, taking 3 hours for a trip he can normally make in 35 minutes. Then we had to order parts and waited 2 weeks for them to come in. In the meantime we drove the truck and parked it on the beach walking the last half mile home each time we needed to go to town. Luckily the tides have been below 30 ft for that time frame. Any tides over that and it would no longer be safe to park the truck on the beach.

Today we finally had all the parts and time, so we decided to work on the 4 wheeler. After much online research we managed to get the old parts off, and they were definitely ruined.

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I couldn’t believe there were no step by step instructions online for doing this, so here’s how we managed it for our Yamaha Kodiak 450. First we took off the right rear tire, then placed the 4 wheeler in neutral and flipped it up onto it’s left side. We did leak a little gas from to vent hose doing this, but it made reaching the parts so much easier. Then we used a flat head screw driver and 2 lb hammer to tap the c clips out of place. Make sure to have a rag wrapped around the joint for this part! We managed to loose one c clip not doing that since they fly off.

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Next use a hammer and punch to tap the yoke on one side until the other side comes loose. We used a socket drive as a punch since it was the right size. Remove the opposite side carefully so you don’t lose any of the small bearings inside. Then flip the joint and repeat the process to remove the other yoke. The u joint should pop off easily at that point. To put a new one on we reversed this process, but used a clamp to get the yokes in rather than hammer and punch. Once we understood the process it was really easy to complete.

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The part that took us the longest during was actually trying to find the c clip we lost on the ground! Kyle finally realized that each u joint has 4 c clips so we took another one off the old parts and used it. Then we got to test drive the 4 wheeler and take it home! Not having the 4 wheeler the last few trips to town has really made us appreciate it that much more. Especially with Kyle carrying heavy loads up the big hill to our place like 40 lbs of dog food!

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In other news around the homestead, we purchased a large propane stove top for cooking and canning. The fireweed is starting to develop buds and I am really looking forward to making jelly with the flowers. There are lots of berries that will be coming in soon as well.

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I also added a few more plants to the greenhouse, and was able to gather some raspberry starts from a neighbor. Our meat chickens are temporarily housed to one side of the greenhouse. They should only be there for another day or two while we finish the chicken coop.
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And last but definitely not least, Kyle got the solar up and running! We can run all of our electronics off solar now, and will just be using the generator for power tools and as a back up. Our 400 watt off grid system is just the right size for us (get yours here). We tested it and it charges really well on cloudy days too.
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