Homestead Roots Newsletter - 2/1/2024

Homestead Roots Newsletter - 2/1/2024

The weather is absolutely WILD. This week in Wisconsin has been super warm. This of course means the Barlow children only really suffered through like a week of wearing shoes outside.🙂 I do have to say it is a bit disorienting and I do wonder if we are going to receive payback for these nice days at some point. Looking on the bright side, the animals are enjoying the outdoors, we are saving wood and propane and it does feel nice being outside in the mild weather.

The Fowl are Finally Laying and Planning Our Homestead Garden

Elias with one of his ducks

The chickens and ducks have finally started laying again. I am unsure if it is day length, the warmer temperatures, the light we added to the coop or if the negotiations have finally turned our way after their long strike. In any event it is good to have eggs again and we are actively making a plan to prevent this from happening in the future. During the great egg shortage we purchased eggs from a couple of friends and also relied on the eggs we froze last summer. We will definitely do that again!

Our eldest son Elias has a duck hatchery business. This week his ducks have started laying as well so he is starting to make plans to separate his breeding groups so he can start hatching out pure breed ducks. I believe he will be offering 5 different purebred breeds this year. He has an incubator set up in the basement for hatching and has had some luck selling hatching eggs as well. Step 1 was moving his group of Muscovy ducks to another area. They are the trouble makers apparently, next he will divide up their living space to keep all the breeds separate. If you are interested in baby ducks or hatching eggs just reply to this email and I can make the connection.

We are excited this year to expand our homestead garden. We used to mix our homestead crops in with our market garden but we really need all those beds these days. So we are developing a new area for the homestead garden. We did some trials last year and had success growing corn, onions and potatoes, it all worked really well so we will go all in this year. We will grow things like, potatoes, onions, squash, sweet potatoes, dried beans, popcorn, etc. Things that generally take up a full bed space for most of the year and that we use. We intend the grow space to be for both orchard trees and garden beds. So in between the grow beds we are going to plant fruit and nut trees. I have a depiction of what it will look like below (not to scale). Each brown strip will equal 2 of our standard 30” by 50 foot garden beds. We completely covered the growing area with leaf mulch for the winter to add some fertility and give us some mulch for when we start planting. We will keep you updated!

Our Favorite Method for Watering Our Chickens

Chickens Drinking

Tank heater sits at the bottom of the barrel.

I am juggling things around a bit with content to see what you guys like best. This week we are trying a little explainer. So much of homesteading is innovating and problem solving and research and then execution. I love it! We've had excellent luck with our chicken waterer and I wanted to share. I am thinking we are on year 4-5 with it. We run the same waterer all year round and it meets the needs of 100 to 150 chickens. The waterer is built from a 50 gallon plastic barrel. We use horizontal chicken nipple waterers (yes, they are called chicken nipples!) to allow the birds to access the water, you can find these on amazon, LINK. All the instructions for installing them were included. You just drill a hole in the barrel and screw in the waterers. In the summer we are filling this probably every 2 weeks or so. In the winter it is less. In the winter we drop down a livestock de-icer. Here is the style we use: LINK. It has worked excellent, on the very coldest of nights after several in a row sometimes the nipples do freeze up. In those cases we are just bucketing water to the hens and putting it in rubber bowl. I think this has only happened 2-3 times in the 5 years we've used them, it was likely minus 30 air temperature. This does need to be in an area where you can have water dripping. So inside a wooden coop wouldn't work. Ours is in the corner of our hightunnel where we house the chickens in the winter. One little additional point that I had no idea on when I built this... you need to have your tank heater grounded. Often this will be accomplished with your power cord but if your ground has failed or isn't grounded the tank heater can electrify the water. This happened to me a couple of years ago. I explain it on Youtube here:  LINK.  Hopefully that is a useful little explainer for you and you can put it to use. I am a firm believer in over building, so even if you have a flock of 20 vs. 150 this type of waterer is still useful. It just means filling it less often, which is a really good thing!

A Few Ways to Save


In our last issue we talked about some good reasons to save your money. Let’s take a look today at a few vehicles for that saving.

  • Bank Savings Account - the good old simple savings account. It works but you are sacrificing significant growth. Average growth is 0.47% as of this month.

  • High Yield Savings Account - you can do a little research to find an account you like, we have one from Citi. It is where we keep our emergency fund. Most high yield savings accounts are sitting around 5.0% right now. Growth is good, and money is safe.

  • Index Fund Investing - this is the stock market now so their is more risk but also more reward. We invest in Vanguard funds, one of those funds is VTSAX, which is their total stock market fund. So you get small pieces of lots of stocks to give you diversity. In 2023, this fund earned 24.05%. On the flip side in 2022 the fund was down 20.81%. The market goes up and down but in generally it has always gone up. OPNION: If the market goes down and stays down we are in bad shape as a country and your money in in trouble anyway!

There are a ton of other options out there too! The key is finding a system that works for you, creating a plan and sticking to your plan. Your future self will thank your current self for putting that money away!

Bringing Compost Creation In-House

Unloading a load of material from our chicken high tunnel.

After gardening for a few years and deciding to transition to a no-till system that was heavy on compost we knew that we needed find a way to produce more compost! For a couple of years we hauled in compost and it was just too expensive. Step 1 for us was to put our animals to work. In our case this meant the chickens! We have 100-150 hens at any given time on our farm that produce eggs for our farmstand. They are housed in a high tunnel that we fill with wood chips and leaf mulch a couple of times a year. Prior to refilling it we go in with our skidsteer and clear out the previous mulch material, chicken droppings and food scraps that have been accumulating. This is a pretty "hot" mixture, so we pile it up and give it some good time to compost. It turns to solid gold! The key is keeping the hens in the tunnel (they have a big outdoor run for the summer but sleep in the tunnel, in the winter we lock them in as they don’t like the snow) so we can keep the good stuff contained and building an end wall that allows us to get in and out with the skidsteer.

That was good but it wasn't giving us enough material. So we connected with a local lawn service guy. He does thatching, and leaf pickup for his customers. We gave him a nice open space to dump the leaves and grass clippings, for free. We then take those materials and create a couple big piles. Over the winter they sit and then over the summer I turn them 3-4 times. By the fall when we are ready to add compost to our beds we have a beautiful looking compost. Even if the leaves aren’t fully broken down that is OK. It is a great addition to our garden beds. The downside to this of course is that with the leaves he is often picking up other trash as well, so we do have to remove plastics and garbage sometimes. We are also organic, though not certified, so there could be an issue with pesticides but from what I have gathered in research the timing of pesticide/herbicide use and the length of time we compost should keep us pretty safe.

There are a lot of ways to do this... but this has worked really well for us! I also will say we originally used a lot of cow and horse manure compost and I just didn't care for the amount of weed seeds we were bringing in to the garden. Leaf mulch is a great alternative!

Purchasing our Homestead

Our new home

Tearing out the walls in the basement

Moving the existing chicken coop

Exploring our land

We made the big move home in the summer of 2012. At the time I had no job and we had no home. So we moved in with my parents and went to work creating a plan. The job stuff worked itself out when my mom offered me an opportunity to join her consulting firm, this has allowed me to work from home and build a business around healthcare consulting and physician recruitment. Plus I get to work with my mom! It has been a blessing! What we didn't realize was being newly self employed we couldn't get a mortgage. WHO KNEW!?! So we looked at houses and worked on a plan but nothing came together until I stumbled into a notice that my parents neighbors house and property were going to be foreclosed. We hounded the property and got the first offer in and it was accepted. And thus began our journey of homesteading. Our property is 10 acres and adjoins my parents 10 acre parcel. We have all the animals on our side and most of the gardens and our farmstand on my parents side of the property. It has been an awesome blessing and there is no doubt that God was working through it all to put us where we needed to be.

Thank you all for reading and for joining us in this community? Do you have friends or family that might also be interested? Please feel free to forward this along and suggest the subscribe. What do you guys think of length. This one got quite long, is it too long? Happy to take your feedback!