We moved onto a bare piece of land in the fall, two years ago. Before us were 10 acres of clover and Timothy grass pastures, 90 acres of mixed woodland regrowing from clear-cut, and an 80 year old hand-drilled shallow well with a hand pump. The rest was up to us. We put our homesteading skills to the test.
We brought with us a modest but temporary mobile home, a good wood cook stove, a milking cow in calf, a Standard bred workhorse, a dozen hens and a few hand tools. Our first priorities were to design an affordable power system, and build fences and a barn to winter the animals. We did not do this with very much money behind us, so we relied on effectively using what we had, and experimenting with new ways of doing things.
Since there was an abundance of small timber that needed to be thinned for the health of the regrowing forest, we used "bush timber" to build the barns. But lacking the skills and hand tools that built thousands of beautiful barns before gas motors and electricity, we used a less ideal, but effective power saw. The cost of the power saw was more than covered by the savings in purchased lumber. I would have loved to build our barns "the old way", but with winter coming, I had to sacrifice an ideal for the necessity of getting a thing done. The small amount of gas used to power the saw is significantly less than the amount of gas required to drive to town to purchase eggs, milk and meat.
We experimented with different methods of milling and building, using 4-6 inch diameter poplar and fir thinnings. Mr. Fritillary learned to cut decent free-hand inch boards, posts, and rafters in just about any size and shape we needed. We brought lengths of wood down from the forest with our trusty horse Pilgrim, who puts in honest work for his oats. Log cabin type walls were the design we settled on, and before winter arrived, a curious and generous neighbour donated some used tin sheets to cover our 256 square foot shed roof barn. It wasn't much to look at, but it brought us and our animals through winter and each year we have continued to improve it.
We learned to build inexpensive roofs with a layer of boards, tar paper and a tarp. We learned how to best insulate the animals from the bitter winter winds by organizing our hay storage. We learned from a few mistakes. Not including the saw, our barns cost us about $150, and we now have a 1200 square foot barn that provides hay, grain and shelter for a horse, a dairy cow or 3 goats, and a small flock of hens. And more than this, we have the confidence and knowledge that we gained from the experience. Above all I have learned that homesteading skills are less about method, and more about resilience and commitment. In other words, there is always a way to get something done, and you may not do it the best way, the first time.
Our power system was a challenge of a different sort. We are still improvising, experimenting and researching appropriate renewable home power systems. I will detail that story in another blog.