Every time you feel in God's creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: "O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!
- Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

You can’t get to joy by making everything perfect. You can only get there by seeing in every imperfection all that’s joy.
-Ann Voscamp

Friday, January 20, 2012

Managing a Diversified Homestead With Little Acreage

Mama Tea, the farm girl over at A Farmish Kind Of Life posted a few questions on her blog yesterday that gave me an idea for a post. I'm forever feeling that I really don't know much at all, and in the big scheme of things that's probably always going to be true. However, I realized today that there are a few things that I do know, and I should share them. So, Mama Tea (and anyone else who's curious), this is for you.

Homesteading a small piece of property in Northern MN has its challenges. There's a lot less space available to utilize, so it must be utilized well. It does take some thought and foresight. Here's what I can say about how we take these challenges and turn them into benefits.

Manure: when you don't have a lot of space for it, what do you do with it? You could put it to good use by composting it. This is actually very simple. All of the used bedding, manure, kitchen scraps, lawn clippings, garden waste and weeds go into one big pile. The pile has to be kept at a depth and width of about 3 feet or more, enough to heat the pile up good. This kills the seeds that may be present it it. The pile has to be kept wet, and we add as much green matter as we can to it. We end up with basically two piles. We add new materials to one pile, and keep the other pile working until we're ready to use it. It also has to be turned once in a while, but for us the chickens take care of that. They spread it out, and we have to rake it back up. They also eat up a lot of the seeds in it, which helps us to be able to use it sooner. It should only take about six weeks for the pile to cook the seeds and then it's ready to use. It will get as hot as 140 degrees F. It may even steam after a rain or sprinkling with the sprinkler.
When it's ready you can add it directly to the garden. If, like us, your configuration of raw materials contains a lot of straw and hay, it will still contain a lot of straw and hay. That's okay. It will be light and airy, and help to lighten heavier soils.
The way we bed our animal pens doesn't produce as much waste as you might imagine, and we really don't end up with too much. In fact, if you garden, there may not be such a thing as too much. If you do end up with more than you can use, maybe you can advertise it, and sell it or at the least get someone who wants it to come and get it. That's our plan if we do end up with more than we can handle.
Currently on our 1.5 acres we have three goats, 17 chickens and 6 breeding rabbits and the young that there usually are in some stage of growth. We use a deep bedding method for about 6 or 7 months of the year for the chickens and the goats. This means that my goat barn hasn't been "mucked out" for about 4 months now. I know it may be hard to believe, but it doesn't smell bad, and the top of the bedding is dry and clean. This is how it all works.
In the spring, the chicken shed gets a good cleaning out, a sprinkling of DE and fresh bedding spread, but not very much. We muck out the areas that need it on a regular basis to keep it fresh. That's actually not a huge amount, since they are free ranging during the summer. Mostly it means shoveling out under the roosts periodically.
The goats get the same spring cleaning, and then bedding spread only in the corners of their barn. This gives them a cozy place to sleep (and they choose a place to pee in, too). Goats poop nice dry berries that are easily swept up with a broom and dust pan. This I do twice a day, getting the floor nice and clean. An added bonus of this cleaning is that I have nice clean goat berries to side dress plants in my garden. The plants really seem to benefit from this treatment before they begin to flower and set fruit.
The rabbits are in hanging wire cages in the rabbitry. They have straw spread on the floor under their cages. Their treatment never really changes. It gets mucked out when it smells too strongly, and fresh straw put down. This happens more often in the summer than the winter. In the winter when the deep bedding method is being employed, we will take the slightly used bedding from the top of the litter in the goat barn and recycle if for the rabbits so that the goats get a clean, fresh surface.
As it gets cooler, we actually get a break from regular mucking out since we need to get a good layer of bedding and manure accumulating. This actually composts during the winter, helping to heat the animals. To keep the top layer clean for the goats, use a pitch fork to fork up the top layer and shake the berries out, leaving them under the clean top layer. Add new straw as needed to keep the top layer clean and the barn smelling fresh. At first I thought this would never work. I thought that by mid winter there would be feet of straw built up and the goats would be jumping over the gate. However, it seems to break down and compact, and really hasn't built up to a depth of more that 6 or 8 inches, except where they usually pee and poop and where they bed down for the night. I let it build up somewhat more in those areas. It really produces some good heat, and benefits the animals greatly.
Well, this is getting really long already, and I've only talked about manure so far. Next time I'll talk about free ranging chickens and rotational grazing for goats.


  1. Great idea for some posts; looking forward to more! I haven't tried the deep bedding method yet, but honestly I think I'm going to try it with the chicken coop. I just gave it a good cleaning about two weeks ago and I think I'll just scoop what big clumps of poop I can easily get, then put fresh bedding (actually wasted hay from the picky eating goats) down.

  2. Love learning about how you are doing things!

  3. CR- I'd give it a try if I were you. :) It cuts down on at least how many times you have to do the job. Once or twice a year it can be a fairly big job. Goats are definitely picky!
    Erin- I'm glad you enjoy it. I know I'm going to learn a lot from you when you make the big move. :)