Spring Season Essentials for Your Homestead

In just a few weeks, homesteads and hobby farms around the Midwest will usher in spring by tossing some seeds in the ground for an early spring crop. They'll clean up their barnyards and freshen things up for their livestock. Spring is almost here, and there are essential tasks to be completed to make the most of the 2017 growing season. 

In order to support you with your spring homesteading preparations, Rebecca of the Cedar River Homestead opened up her hobby farm for a peek at what could (or should) take place over the next few weeks. 

Rebecca and her husband are in their fourth year on the seven-acre Cedar River Homestead, having sold their separate homes in town when they married. They grew up in the country in Eastern Iowa, but neither had experiences like those they're cultivating today.

Over the last four years they put in a lot of work, including adding fencing for their grazing animals, constructing and repairing sheds and shelters, the addition of livestock and poultry, creating and maintaining a huge compost pile, building a hoop house greenhouse, and restoring a massive vegetable garden that once resembled The Secret Garden.

Much of their success can be attributed to the support of Rebecca's father-in-law and family, trial and error, doing a lot of reading. Effective homesteading during any season is not done in isolation. 

Spring Season Essential Tip #1: 
Clarify and note your main goals for the upcoming spring, summer, and fall seasons. Do these goals include animals, homestead infrastructure, marketing or income-earning opportunities?

In 2017 Rebecca is setting her sights on new chicks for the Homestead, as well as caring for a baby donkey or two born right on the farm later this spring. To make the Moo (the Jacob sheep) and Caesar (the Saanen SP goat) more comfortable and safe while they graze, they'll add portable netting to the pasture areas to focus their grazing. A continual chore on the Cedar River Homestead is cleaning up the timber of fallen and dead trees, which Rebecca's husband mostly takes care of. 

Spring Season Essential Tip #2:  
Inventory each building on your homestead, taking stock of what repairs need to be made and what materials need restocking.

On Cedar River Homestead, Rebecca and her husband have a lean-to style shed for the sheep and goat, a chicken coop they purchased from a local builder, an A-frame shed for the additional poultry and an A-frame shed for their two mini-donkeys, named Agnes and Pearl. The donkeys also have a portable shade shed on wheels that can be rolled into the pasture area for comfort in the hot months.

The chicken coop houses the majority of the Homestead's poultry, which includes 20+ chickens, a variety of mixed breed ducks, and a few guineas. One of the A-frame sheds provides additional shelter when needed.

If you're new to a pre-established homestead, taking inventory and doing an assessment of the structures is essential. It is likely that repairs are needed before you can bring poultry or livestock home.

Don't forget about essential equipment you need to perform important tasks, like butchering. Rebecca, her husband, and father-in-law butcher their own chickens on the farm - mostly young roosters from chicks they've hatched that will push the male beak count over the "ideal population" on the Homestead.

Spring Season Essential Tip #3: 
Take inventory of your seeds, and refine your 2017 garden plans. Map out what you will grow and where it will be located, paying attention to companion plants and succession harvesting.

Rebecca ordered many of her seeds from Sand Hill Preservation Center (located in Calamus, Iowa) this year, and tried some new varieties of kale and onions. When selecting a seed company, she recommends finding a local seed company and one that meets your specific needs for plant variety. Rebecca found that Sand Hill Preservation has very good prices and large quantities in their seed packets.

Rebecca built a beautiful She Shed of reclaimed materials that is located near her massive vegetable garden. She drew up the plans herself, which took a few days, then sourced the materials over a short period of time - traveling fairly locally to obtain exactly what she needed. Once she gathered her materials, it took Rebecca about two or three days to build her garden shed, which is portable in case of flooding.

Spring Season Essential Tip #4:  
Determine a homestead budget, which mostly includes expenses and potential sources of income. Can you sell eggs? Milk? Rent your grazing animals to clear land?

While Rebecca and her husband have no intentions of earning a full-time income off of their Homestead at this time, she knows the possibility is there for hobby farmers and homesteaders in the area.

Spring Essential Tip #5: 
Be prepared for challenges, whether unexpected or planned.

For example, on the Cedar River Homestead there is no shortage of challenge. Whether it be a sick animal, scary weather, or the financial responsibilities of homesteading, they've seen it all. They live in an area that floods regularly, more so in the last five to ten years, and quickly learned to think twice before building anything permanent, from a structure or building to fencing.

A mindset Rebecca and her husband had to adopt right away was the selflessness required when caring for livestock.

She recommends everyone know that animals need care "whether it's 2 a.m. and an animal is sick and you need to check on them, whether there is -40* windchill, even if sometimes the mosquitos carry you away, or if you are feeling sick. It's the first think I do when I wake up - sometimes in my bathrobe - and the last thing I do every single night, and many times in between during the day."

Spring is a period of challenging, demanding work - although essential for a functional growing season. What are your plans for this year? How are you preparing? Leave a comment!

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