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Report from northeast Oklahoma.

House-moving, raising turkeys, Barbados sheep, chickens, raised beds ... and a new barn coming up

When visitors see our place in northeast Oklahoma, they are amazed by the diversity and the thought given to setting things up. Our operations have not been without mistakes, however, and maybe our mistakes, as well as successes, can help others trying to reach a goal of a home beyond the sidewalks.

When we were looking for a place one of the first things we did was to sit down with a pen and paper and list the enterprises we wanted. For example, "X" number of sheep, "X" number of horses, etc., in some cases even getting into specific breeds. Then we listed our assets - including experience and weaknesses - so we could figure out ways to get around the weaknesses. This may sound like one of those goal setting articles, but it is crucial, I believe, in achieving success.

One of our biggest problems was a lack of money. (Now, no one out there ever has that problem right?!) We were lucky in that we have family that could loan us the money to get started. We also fell into a connection with someone who just happened to have some land to sell.

Our problem at the time was a landlord who kept turning our horses loose along a busy road. We called a contact from a local rodeo club, looking for pasture for rent. Although we came up with no pasture to rent, he did have some land for sale and cut us a deal - with one-third down he'd finance it, and we'd make payments through a local bank.

Soon we had 10 acres of open, unfenced area that had been a hay field for several years. We knew it could grow grass, and the several bales of hay on it testified as to its productivity. In our desperation to find pasture, we did not walk out all the way on it.

Lesson number one - take your time, walk all over the property, in different weather conditions. Our land, while it does grow great grass, is wet, with a high clay content. For the back part, where the larger stock is, it isn't a problem, but for areas where the house and such will be it's been a frustrating seven months trying to get it dry enough to pour a footing to set a house on! There are ways to help the drainage and such problems, but no quick fix cure.

We debated modular homes, pole building homes, and other relatively inexpensive housing options. Mobile homes were out because restrictions on the property forbade them as a permanent home, and being in "tornado alley" didn't leave us feeling at ease about a mobile structure.

Then we read an article about houses that needed to be moved - and that such structures could often be had for less than mobile homes, and in some cases free. We thought "yeah, right." I mean, who wouldn't want a nice three bedroom home for under $5,000?

By coincidence, in the next newspaper was an ad for an auction that included a house to be moved. We went to the auction, figuring we would look at the feasibility of such an idea. The bidding started at $500 - and we jumped in. Minutes later, after bidding against another couple, we had a three bedroom home, complete with living room, utility room, bathroom, and a large "country kitchen" for $2,000.

It ended up costing us $5,000 to get it raised and moved to our property, which became lesson #2 - never take anyone's word for an estimate. The only guy we could find that did house moving in the area said he did not use a contract. Insist on a contract that covers what will be done and what the costs include! We have had more disagreements with the mover than anyone else we have dealt with.

Because we did not feel comfortable with the construction end of doing the footing, foundation and such for the house, we hired a professional for that job. Again, learning from the above lesson, we asked for written bids. Out of several prospects, only one gave a written bid that was the same as the verbal one. Needless to say, that and his qualifications gave him the contract'

We knew we wanted to work towards raising our own food, both in the garden and through stock. We'd read everything we could on raising poultry. We ordered some chicks and goslings through Murray McMurray Hatcheries, and locally purchased some ducklings and turkeys.

A spring thunderstorm killed half of our half-grown chicks when they were trapped in water. (Keeping them dry proved to be our biggest challenge.) We lost three turkeys - we're not sure why - and people here seem to think that's remarkably good. I don't think so, as that was half of what we bought.

We did find - by accident - something that helped. Everything we'd seen said turkeys are among the most difficult to raise... they have to be taught to eat and drink and so forth. We had ordered two white turkeys and four bourbon reds. Due to a snag in the order, the reds did not arrive with the white ones. Being new at this game, we set about trying to get the white ones to eat. It was aggravating at best, until I noticed they kept reaching for my hand. It wasn't my hand they were after but the shiny wedding ring. We got a shiny necklace, put it in the feed and let it show through in a couple of spots. Sure enough, the poults, in pecking at the necklace, began eating.

When the reds arrived, the two white ones were eating and drinking with no problem. They basically taught the reds to eat without having to go through the whole thing over again.

Our next enterprise was sheep. We bought three polled Dorsets at a sale in Oklahoma City, figuring we'd start on a small scale. We added a Barbados, liking the sounds of them, and through Countryside, located a small flock of them for sale within a couple hours' drive. We bought them, and comparing the breeds has been interesting.

Besides the differences in looks, the Barbados are more agile than the Dorsets. They can not only go under things but are good jumpers as well. Yet, they tame down, and our first ewe rides in the car to the vet and goes in the front door. They seem to be more protective of their turf than the Dorsets, and the ram once knocked our Doberman into the next week. The dog got up not knowing which direction he was headed and has a good-sized lump on his head still. He'll play with the Dorsets, but will have nothing to do with the Barbados.

However, we also haven't had any problems with stray dogs or coyotes getting in with them either. We have them in a 47-inch fence with a strand of hot wire on top. Fencing for the chickens is a six foot welded wire fence. Now that they're bigger we made an "A" frame house for them.

Although we planned to put lip a "conventional" hen house, we needed something immediately to keep them dry. At a local lumber yard, we asked about the pallets that were stashed outside their gate. They said it was a bum pile, and we could help ourselves to anything we wanted. We started loading the trailer!

We put together two of the same size, nailed on a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood, and made another one to match. We set two on the ground, pulled the plywood covered ones up and set them together in an A shape. Putting another pallet on the north end, we covered it in with scrap wood, leaving the top few inches open for ventilation. Then we put a poultry netting door over the south side, and had a raised, protected place for the chickens to go into at night. After the first week or so, they began going in at night on their own.

This house is inside the six foot fence, so any predators (two or four legged) must go through two barriers to get to the chickens. Add to that the Doberman and a Border Collie who are very persistent in marking their territory, and we have not had any predators so far.

As the poultry adapted to being outside in the yard, we began gradually letting them out and leaving the door to the chicken yard open so they come and go as they want. Of course, at night they are put into the yard. They're learning the routine and pretty much go in on their own. All we do is scatter a little grain as a "reward" and close the gate.

A big benefit to this is that they forage for most of their food, keeping busy in the nearby garden area digging for bugs. The adventurous ones went into the neighboring sheep pen, where there are two horses in metal stalls as well. The chickens, in their quest for bugs, stir up leftover hay, clean up grain spilled by the larger animals and turn over the compost pile. The horses eat, unconcerned, with chickens just a few feet from their heads. We've found our mosquito population has been lessened, flies are fewer, and the plants are healthier. Being out, getting exercise and walking for food and water also makes for healthier birds - we've not lost one since starting this program.

The garden, too, is a bit unconventional. The drainage isn't the best and even with a tiller working up the soil, when it rained the seeds found it impossible to break the surface. The dirt was either too hard or under water. We thought about raised beds, but there was that money thing again! Getting lumber to do it just wasn't in the budget.

However, we found a solution at a local tire dealer. We got tires - free for the hauling - and filled them with good topsoil. The results were immediate... lettuce and tomatoes sprouting, peppers producing like crazy, and strawberries adding not only more runners but lots of berries too.

At a local auction we found two good sized waist high culvert type pipes, and bought them for a reasonable price. Filled with dirt, they're another ideal spot for strawberries and peppers - just steps away from the house. We also got a stack of good windows for $3; they'll be used for cold frames.

I doubt that our next project, building a barn, will be accomplished without spending some money. But those who know us are betting that we won't pay too much for it. (We've already talked to the local power companies about used poles.)

When we see ads in the paper for eight-to-ten acre spots with house, barn, garden and fruit trees for $75,000-$100,000, we can't help but smile, knowing our place might have its flaws, but we wouldn't trade it for the fancier places. We've done, we think, an enormous amount on not very much money, and in talking with the guy at the bank where the land is carried, we found he thought we had much more income than we do.

Our future goals are to add a few goats (we've located a source) and a cow or two. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, we sure enjoy the little things!
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:homesteading
Author:Palmer, Jan
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Homesteading in Owen County, Indiana.
Next Article:Homesteading ... on a boat!

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