We’re moving. Not far – 10 miles. We’re leaving our quaintly dilapidated cottage on the 48-acre farm that we co-own, for a place of our own: a sturdy, handsome log cabin on 6.6 acres that back up to a mountain. Our mountain hideaway, we’ve started calling it, even though it’s not yet officially ours.
The house itself is a major upgrade from anywhere either of us has ever lived in our grown-up lives. Ah, the slovenly East Village tenement I was living in with two roommates when Joe and I met, the cozy little bedbug-infested apartment on the Lower East Side that was our first joint residence, the monstrously oversized suburban 1970s period piece, and finally, the farm.
The farm was the first place we’d actually thought of as home. It was a major coup to secure a residence on this heavenly swath of real estate directly across the street from one of the best disc golf courses in the world. Leaving the farm is bittersweet. The sweet part is that our new place has oak floors and vaulted ceilings, two bathtubs (our current place has zero bathtubs, which makes bathing a child so challenging that we only do it at friends’ houses), a front porch and a back deck, and a mountain full of maples waiting to be tapped.
The bitter part? With one-seventh the farm’s acreage, the mountain hideaway can only house a fraction of all the farm animals we’ve acquired over the past few years. Our current roster includes 14 pigs, eight goats, four cows, one Guinea hen, and about 280 chickens – 30 laying hens and 250 four-month-old pullets.
We have some major cuts to make. As I go about my daily chores now, I’m sizing up each species, calculating space requirements versus return on investment (eggs, meat, milk), contemplating the qualities that make an animal a good candidate for living in closer quarters. The pigs get docked a point for eating the duck. We know it was the pigs because Joe spotted one of them with a beak in its mouth. But of course, all that logical stuff gets trumped by fondness.
Nothing says instant-family like witnessing a birth. That’s why my first-round pick is our dairy goat, Rebeca, and her doeling, Saturn, who was born on the farm this spring. Skittish she may be, but Rebeca has turned out to be a capable mother, and she even lets us milk her sometimes before she kicks over the bowl. Bonus: she appears to be pregnant again, so we’ll probably be welcoming two more kids to the family next spring.
Here’s where it gets hard. Saturn has a twin brother named Little Latté. Whether or not to take Little Latté has been keeping me up nights. Little Latté is the spitting image of his father, who was my all-time favorite goat. (I haven’t known that many.) You hear all sorts of things about how you don’t want to keep a buck around, and yes, Latté Senior did piss all over himself when he got fired up, but he was nonetheless a gentleman.
We sold Latté Senior down the proverbial river, because if we’d kept him around, he would eventually have bred his daughter. Now we’re faced with the same problem with Little Latté. If we put him in with his mom and sister, we’ll have inbreeding on our hands. Tether him in the yard during breeding season? Split up the family and leave him behind?
Then there are the chickens. Every homestead needs laying hens, but how many? We went wild this summer, thinking we’d launch a sideline business selling eggs. Now that we’ve raised 250 chicks into good-looking “chickagers” it’s almost time to reap the rewards in the form of 150 eggs a day – but just before that happens we’re going to have to get rid of most of them. We’ve been giving a few away to friends and will probably sell some (email me if you’re interested), and in the meantime, we’re looking at creative ways to max out the space at the mountain hideaway.
The above ground pool, for instance. At first, we’d asked the seller to get rid of it; we’d rather have the space for the garden. Then I woke up one morning and said: Hold it. A strategy was taking shape in my mind. Drill holes along the bottom of the pool. Hose it down with water and vinegar to get rid of chemical residue. Fill it a few feet with leaves, compost, manure, whatever, along with some red wigglers that specialize in speeding up the decomposition process. Seed it with some fast-growing, cool weather crop (my winter rye seeds just arrived in the mail). Keep it partway covered with the tarp, and cover the other part with poultry netting, to keep the chickens in and predators out. Voila: an additional chicken coop and run. I don’t know how many birds will fit comfortably in there, but if we can take along 20 more of our crewmembers, that’s a feat worth the sweat.
I have a feeling the pool idea is a good one, too, because I Googled it and nothing came up. My most outlandish ideas to date have always turned out to be disappointingly well-documented on homesteading or permaculture or backyard chicken forums. No one else has tried to turn a pool into a chicken coop? Bring it on.