Our Modern Wyoming Homestead
Modern Homesteading can mean many things to many people and should not to be confused with off-grid living although there are similarities. One thing we know for sure is homesteaders’ dream of being as self-sufficient as their circumstances will allow. Homesteader’s also tend to have a strong desire to get back to their roots and the basics.
Painfully obvious is that the homesteading movement is growing, especially with the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic. What an eye-opener it was to enter the grocery store only to find empty shelves and quantity limits for basic food items and toiletry products! Consequently, I don’t see the homesteading trend ending anytime soon. If the pandemic did nothing else, it contributed to the huge spike in homesteading.
Simply put, modern homesteading is a lifestyle where one works towards self-sufficiency in one form or another. It can be as simple as growing a garden or as complicated as raising and butchering your own livestock. Let’s face it; most of us still have to work a regular job to pay the mortgage and utilities, but anything we can do to break the “chain of reliance on the modern world” is one step closer to self-sufficiency. Welcome to the world of modern homesteading.
From a young age, I dreamed of living a self-sufficient lifestyle. I can’t tell you why and often wondered if it’s just in my DNA. All I know is the desire is very strong. It consumes my every thought and fuels the dream.
When I was in my thirties, I took a leap of faith and left the modern world behind. I quit my job as an Office Manager with the Utah State Tax Commission and moved to Southwest Wyoming to live off-grid. I had two young daughters in tow around the ages of five and seven. We lived in a trailer heated by a wood stove on a remote ranch with no running water or electricity. I was very naive at how hard it would be, but I loved every minute of it. To this day, my daughters who are now in their mid to late thirties will tell you it was the most memorable and cherished time of their lives. I would have to agree. Unfortunately, we were ill prepared and in the dead of winter were forced to move into town. Oh, the stories I could tell of what NOT to do! Suffice it to say I learned a lot from that experience.
Since that time, I have begged for a redo. I want the opportunity to do things “right” before I leave this world. This time it will NOT be off-grid. I will rely on modern conveniences such as running water and electricity which will allow more time to focus on things that will actually make us more self-sufficient and self-reliant!
Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of being able to quit my current job as a Project Manager. I still have to pay the bills and keep the homestead dream alive. I’m older, hopefully wiser and have learned some degree of patience. Now that I am older, I also take fewer risks! Oh, to be in my thirties again and know what I know today. For now, I have to focus on building the foundation for a full-time homestead in preparation for retirement. Better late than never they say!
Where we are today…
Every homesteader’s dreams and goals are different. Here I will share where we are today then I will share our dreams and goals. Perhaps you can derive something useful from our journey and put it into practice on your homestead!
In the winter of 2018, we were given the opportunity to purchase an old farm house with approximately 30 beautiful acres. The bonus to this property was that we had a meat processing facility we had operated several years earlier which is also located on the property. It gave us a chance to have all our assets in one place and honestly, it added another facet to the homestead dream. No, it was not cheap and it’s the biggest downfall in our homestead goals and dreams. We were not one of the fortunate individuals who inherited their land! For this reason, our number one goal is getting our farm paid off. When it does come time to retire, we won’t have this huge debt looming over our heads.
The farm and farmhouse was and is in disrepair. Let’s just say there’s no shortage of projects on this homestead. Fortunately, my husband and I have never steered clear of hard work! Our biggest challenge is location. I would not consider Southwest Wyoming the ideal homesteading environment due to its long winters and short growing season. This will definitely take some ingenuity if we hope to grow a bountiful garden. I see a greenhouse in our future and plants that will have to be started indoors. It’s on the “Project List!”
Our motto has always been to “Go Big or Go Home!” We have found we do best if we jump in with both feet and just do it. We learn from our mistakes and move on. Sitting idle reaps no rewards and wastes valuable time. Analysis paralysis, fears and doubts have a way of holding a person back. If your dream is to become a homesteader, just do something and do it at a pace you are comfortable with. I would not recommend our approach to everyone as circumstances do play a major role. We have personally chosen this path because we have the resources to do it now. Our hope is that we will have the infrastructure in place when it comes time to retire so we can enjoy our last days living our dream, not making it.
With that said and the property now in our possession, we decided to “jump in with both feet.” We always knew we wanted to raise cattle, but now that we are getting older we had no desire to handle flighty cattle that can kill you. This is where we did our research. We knew from the start we DID NOT WANT to raise Angus cattle. We wanted something different. If we were going to raise livestock, we wanted it to be fun. We knew we wanted smaller cattle so we could easily manage them by ourselves and we wanted them to be gentle. While we were dreaming we decided we wanted them to be dual-purpose for meat and milk. Did such a bovine even exist?
YES! This wonderful little bovine breed is the foundation of our homestead. Irish Dexter cattle are quite possibly the most ideal bovine for small and large homesteaders alike. I can’t imagine any other breed outdoing them in all the qualities they possess. They are waist-high, very docile, very friendly, very curious, and very trainable. A full sized Dexter can produce a manageable amount of gourmet beef for a family AND a manageable amount of milk. Calf sharing is easy with Dexters keeping you from being tied down to a twice-a-day milking. Their milk contains 4-5% butterfat which is ideal for making butter, cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, sour cream, buttermilk and yogurt. They eat less than their larger cousins and require less acreage. Pound for pound, acre for acre, I can raise more Dexter cattle on our acreage than traditionally sized cattle. They are very hardy in all climates, known for their ease in calving and have even been used as oxen. I might also add they are the perfect cattle for homesteads with children and are easily managed by WOMEN. Yes, you heard me correctly. No man handling required! It doesn’t often happen that something turns out better than expected!
Can a goat do all of this? I loved my goats, but there is no comparison. I may have goats again someday, but for now, I am totally in love with the Irish Dexter.
Much of our time in these first two years has been dedicated to building the infrastructure for our cattle. This includes a cattle chute, shelters, corrals and birthing pens, fencing for the pastures, bull pens, and hay storage. All require time and money. We have found it best to live on a place for a while, work it and evaluate what you can improve upon from the previous year. It takes time to determine what did and didn’t work. For example, we felt we should have more shelters available during calving season since it’s typically very cold and snowing in Wyoming during this time and puts calves at great risk. Sure, we could just let them calve naturally in the pasture like everyone else, but it would have driven us insane! It was important to us to be there for every birth and ensure none of our heifers experienced any complications. Fortunately, our Dexters lived up to their reputation for calving ease and we now look forward to calving season every year. Every calf is a blessing akin to opening the best Christmas present ever! Okay, so our Dexters are a little spoiled…It’s easy to do when they are so stinking gentle!
With that said additional shelters were our main focus in 2020 as we prepared for the upcoming 2021 calving season. We also put in permanent fencing where temporary fencing had been previously. Our Irish Dexter’s are by far our biggest investment but they also have the potential to be our biggest income and food source for the homestead.
In our two years on the homestead, we have made huge strides. In the spirit of the homesteader, we have refurbished and repurposed old buildings and installed permanent fencing. Sometimes we have to take a step back and try to see things in a new light. Just because it’s always been a hay barn, doesn’t mean it has to stay a hay barn! With this in mind, we moved all of our hay to a Quonset hut and repurposed the hay barn into birthing pens with access to the outdoors for water. The Quonset hut doesn’t leak and will keep our hay from getting wet and moldy. The hay barn has a few leaks but will work perfectly for calving. It’s on the “Project List!”
Our dreams and goals…
Now that you know where we are in our homesteading process, I’d like to share the big picture. Keeping in mind that we live in Southwestern Wyoming, I have what I believe to be a rock solid theory in how we should grow and operate our homestead.
Winters are brutal here with temperatures plummeting to -30° F. This is especially true when you factor in wind chill. For this reason and this reason alone, wouldn’t it make sense to carry over fewer animals through the winter?
In our younger years, we were avid hunters of wild game. We filled our freezers with antelope, deer, elk, moose, rabbit and sage grouse. Game was plentiful. Today, hunting competition is fierce and all our old hunting grounds are now private property. Regrettably, we have quit hunting and found other avenues for supplying our family with healthy, nutritious and unadulterated protein sources.
Enter the homestead…
So here’s the GRAND PLAN.
It’s really nothing special and probably very similar to most homesteader dreams and goals. First and foremost, we will take care of the needs of our family. Second, we’ll need to develop a form of income to help sustain the homestead when we retire and we’ll want to be profitable. We’ll do this largely by raising additional wholesome foods (garden and livestock) to sell to members of our community. Simple, right?
The “simple” part is taking care of the needs of our family. No pressure. However, don’t be fooled. It’s hard work and will keep you busy from dusk until dawn seven days a week, 365 days per year. No vacation. No sick days. Livestock must be fed and cared for every day even if you have COVID-19. That’s another story. There is always something that needs to be done. Fortunately for us, we consider time on our farm and homestead a vacation! It’s where we love to spend our time and since we are not big travelers, it works great for us.
With that said, our goal is to raise Dexter cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. We have even considered raising game birds, but this will require more research. Each year, this will provide our family and community with a variety of beef, lamb, pork, and poultry. The cattle and sheep would be the primary livestock on the farm year around. As for everything else, it will get processed in the fall and fill our freezers. Since we no longer hunt, it is the perfect opportunity to process everything. This eliminates a lot of work during the extreme winter months, lowers the feed bill and gives us fewer animals to care for during the winter. If it doesn’t eat hay it doesn’t get to stay!
In short, look at your available resources and develop a list of ideas to draw from. Our list contains ideas for diversifying and creating potential income sources. For example, we happen to have a small commercial meat processing facility which can also serve as an artisan cheese shop. We’re not there yet, but it’s on the list! For us, the key is in building the infrastructure. We invite you to share in our adventure where we will share the good, the bad and ugly!