After 5 years on our hillside 5 acres we've learned a lot. Now the house is up to code (relocated an old demolition house, insulated and repaired), we have an offgrid power system and running water (yay hot showers!) After this time I am very familiar with wind, water and sun flow over the property in all seasons. I am looking closely at the systems I set up on our homestead to align with permaculture principles. Getting everything minimum input is important as we work fulltime to pay the mortgage. Here are some of the systems I have in place or am planning to put in place. I would appreciate feedback and any other ideas that you find make your life easier on your land.
1) Water. As we have a house below hilltop height, rainwater collection and minimal power available, we plan to put a 5000L tank on top of the hill and only pump up from our main tank on sunny days when the PV power is high. Then use a gravity feed pipe to the house for pressure, with a garden hose tap divert to the side for watering the animals and vege gardens if we have a dry summer. Swaling is not really necessary on our site as we have good water retention, high rainfall and can mulch generously. All groundwater runs off to pool naturally in a boggy spot beyond the house, then flows down hill further to a lower boggy site. Considering scraping both of these out (clay pan) with a digger as additional water catchment areas, grow watercress etc
2) Animal and garden management. Battling invasive grass Kikuyu in the vege plots, and wanting to manage my animals sensibly. I have decided to erect a high mesh fence area subdivided into 4 sections with A-frame shelters and gates between. This will be the vege gardens, directly outside the back door, where I can rotate the chickens to clear ground, manure and eat up plants, bugs and grubs after cropping. All the deep litter from the goat shed (containing worms, rich manure but also grass and weed seeds that sprout) will be annually barrowed 10feet from the shed into these areas as hen scratch and greens, mulch and soil conditioner. Chickens can be fed with excess goat milk, kitchen scraps, fresh scythed grasses and herbs, plus butchering scraps alongside their forage. Investigating a maggot farm also for hens.
3) Pasture/lawns. Hubby hates mowing, its a waste of grass feed, energy, time and petrol. The lawn is beautiful lush pasture, the best on the property. Chicken gardens will consume some of this area. Tether the goats for short periods to enjoy and convert it to milk and meat. The orchard area will be undersowed with additional herbs and legumes, grown as hay then scythed and stored as feed, or the goats will simply destroy all my trees. Mow only strips as pathways, if that.
4) The workshop, homestead hub. This is in the planning stages while the savings grows. It will be alongside to the house, built like a big bedroom, on skids so it can be moved in future if needed. It will hold our deepfreezer for meat and vegetables, storage of many things, tools and workbench for husband. The lean to will have a gravel floor, a milkstand, drying racks, hay storage and stable/penned area for animals. Along the outside wall of the workshop, under the eaves, will be a stainless steel bench and sink (recycled gift from mum) with a rainbarrel and tap. This will be an allpurpose area for potting seedlings, processing veges and butchering, sausage making etc, as it can be hosed, scrubbed and sanitised easily.
5) Investigating growing feed for the goats, as they are dairy animals browse is not enough alone when they are lactating. I have comfrey patches already, which they like. Considering growing high calorie and protein feeds like alfalfa, pumpkin seeds and welcome suggestions on these.
I know there are many other systems that people use and I'd really like to hear about specific ones that can cut down on the amount of double handling in traditional farming/gardening. My one rule on the property is every plant, building or animal must serve more than one function, and I'm keen to see how far I can take that - the most useful I have found so far is the goats (if managed well) as providers of entertainment, meat and dairy, weed whackers and compost makers.
As was said, if you want to count the pennies alone, by the time you've built the coop and fed them, maybe it's not worth it. 4 is enough to make eggs for a small family.
But if you consider truly fresh organic eggs, work done for you in your vege garden and the enjoyment of keeping hens as having value, then yes - it's worth it. If you manage your chickens around permaculture principles then they will serve more than just one purpose which helps to balance the books.
Perhaps you will be setting their run up as a multi-sectioned area like we are building at our house - you can keep the chooks in one small-ish section (eg 6sqm for 4) at a time, so they clear the grass, manure the soil, eat grubs and slugs, turn and compost the mulch you put down.
Then you put them in section 2 on fresh fodder and plant your vegetable seedlings in the soil of section 1.
Continue rotating so they eat up the finished vege plants and pest insects for you. Along with your kitchen scraps and the fresh greens they get from the garden, you can supplement them with commercial feed in exchange for your eggs.
Voila! Low maintenance gardening (no weeding or digging) with eggs as a by-product, the straw or chip you bring in as chook litter becomes a gardening asset rather than soiled muck to be removed manually. With our new design based on our experience with hens on our soil, we will be keeping 10 hens rotating on 3 x 15sqm penned garden beds with shelter and nest boxes. I'm so over weeding, this seems like the sensible solution to me.
Good luck, I cant recommend chickens enough - it's so lovely to have them clucking away happily outside the window and announcing that your breakfast has been laid!
The very best tool I have is my husband! He has built, fenced, plumbed, roofed and generally turned his city boy's hands to whatever needs doing. He's turned a bare paddock into something approaching a homestead in 5 years, while I have pootled about with manure and packets of seeds.
We really want a post hole digger, to fence all the animal systems into place as we go - it would be great to quickly whack up chook runs to rotate as a garden beds... divide more paddocks whenever we wanted. And I'd love a scythe to cut hay. We also hanker for a trailer to move stuff with - soon, soon.
Currently top rated tools in our house over 5 years homesteading starting from scratch:
My laid back Saanen dairy doe: she browses weeds and keeps the pasture over the septic tank down so we dont have to mow, provides dairy products, meat from any wether kids, and a load of composted hay and manure from her shed each year. She's also a sweet pet.
Our laptop for internet to learn how to do homesteading stuff and stay in touch with distant loved ones!
Wheelbarrow, hoe and my 3 prong rake tool
Fencing tools - spinning jenny and strainers
Milk stand for the goats built from old floorboards
Top quality spades x 2 (always needed at the same time - so one each)
Hubby's general toolkit - hammer, screws, spanners, cordless drill etc
Our woodburner fireplace with cooktop, and a stihl chainsaw to cut trees up when they fall
My gardening toolbelt - has secateurs, seeds, tags, trowel etc