Homesteading and Livestock

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Two Homesteaders Collaborate On Weather, Part 1

2/12/2014 9:30:00 AM

Tags: remote living, weather, Bruce McElmurray, Colorado, Ed Essex, Washington

When mountain homesteading remotely the weather tends to be a major player in your lifestyle with its ever present changes and has to be considered a major factor in the life of a mountain homesteader. The following is a collaborative effort by Ed Essex and Bruce McElmurray who both homestead in the mountains but with several states between them. They both answered eight questions on how weather effects their lives.

Ed's houseEd and Laurie Essex

Ed and Laurie Essex moved to the Okanogan Highlands in Eastern Washington State while in their late fifties. Their 40 acre homestead consists of half open space with green grass and sage brush and the other half forested with pine, fir, and tamarack trees. The elevation is 4,200 feet. Their three-mile-long access road to the property is dirt and includes a 1000-foot vertical climb. The nearest small town is 20 miles away and anything larger with more services is 50 miles from the homestead.

They currently have 2 horses, 3 Angora goats, 11 chickens, 2 cats, and an Anatolian Shepherd livestock guardian dog. They spend their time maintaining the property, wood cutting, taking care of animals, gardening and they both work at their website business: or

The homestead consists of a 1,400 square-foot home, a 1,300 square-foot barn, and a few smaller outbuildings including the chicken coop. They are completely off grid. They utilize a septic system, water comes from a 300-foot deep well, and power is solar with a backup generator.

Bruce and Carol McElmurrayMcElmurray

Bruce and Carol live in S. Colorado near the small town of Ft. Garland. They moved to their mountain location on 11 acres, 9,750 feet in elevation, in 1997. Their property is heavily wooded with two springs that that flow all year long. They live within a gated/covenant community of land owners and as such are not allowed to have live stock or fowl. It would be risky trying to maintain those animals anyway with the wild animals such as bear, coyotes, bobcat, lynx, wolves and mountain lions presence.

They live in their 900 square-foot cabin and have a woodshed and detached garage. They heat our cabin with a Yotul wood stove and a small space heater. they are on the grid for electricity and have a 215’ deep well that provides them pure and tasty drinking water. The association of land owners does dirt road maintenance and snow removal and we have over 4,500 acres set aside for recreation. Both Bruce and Carol are retired but work harder at being retired than when they held salaried jobs. They live in their cabin with their three German Shepherd Dogs, Bozwell, Sarah and Echo.

They cut, split, stack about 9-11 cords of firewood per year to keep them warm in winter months. The nearest town (Ft. Garland) is 20 miles away and the next nearest town is 45 miles. For more on Bruce and Carol and their lifestyle go to:

How does the weather impact your life and homestead?

Ed Essex: Our weather consists of all four seasons. Spring, summer, and fall are short and winter is long. Our winters start sometime in October and go through March. Spring is typically April through June. Summer ends in August. Fall is September and part of October. Weather has a huge impact on our daily lives. In fact our whole lifestyle. Temperatures can range from +105F (rare at this elevation) to -13F and even colder in years past. The growing season is short so we have to start plants early in the house and transplant to the garden. We built an insulated cold frame for the south side of the house so we could grow vegetables in the winter. We’ve also learned to grow vegetables inside the house in winter.

The weather affects our 3-mile-long dirt road. We are the only ones up here with the capability to maintain the road. That means repairing washouts after a torrential downpour and plowing snow all winter long. It might even consist of spreading sand by hand on the scariest portions of the road when it turns to solid ice.

Cold weather makes taking care of the animals more difficult starting with keeping their drinking water from freezing. Laurie often feeds the chickens warm meals she has to prepare. Because we produce our own power we can’t afford enough watts for luxuries like heated water troughs.

We spend way more human energy heating our home than most people. We start cutting, splitting and stacking wood on and off from April to September. Fire season is hot and dry and wildfires are common. We experienced a wildfire our first summer here. Fire prevention is part of our property maintenance.

Bruce McElmurray: The weather is probably the largest condition that impact our life and homestead. Weather in the mountains is pretty unpredictable. We actually have five seasons with winter lasting about seven months. The other seasons are Spring, Summer, Fall and Mud season which falls between Winter and Spring. Much of our spring and summer is spent cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. Winter is long and plenty of firewood is required to keep us warm. Spring is a time for planting our little garden since the growing season is very short. At 9,750’ elevation we have to have hardware cloth enclosed garden boxes with a sun filter over them to keep the young plants from burning up or the rodents from eating all we produce. Weather dictates we have to take extra precautions to bring our garden to maturity. Often we have to use spring water on the plants as Colorado is a semi arid State.

The weather actually dictates what we can grow and how we have to structure our lives in the mountains. Late winter when the roads get muddy we have to time our trips to town when the roads are frozen in early morning or after the sun sets. Two of our dogs are sensitive to thunder storms and we have to plan our trips to town when there are no storms forecast. Thunder storms are pretty awesome in the mountains where the thunder echos off the mountains. It is not hard to see why it scares the dogs and counter measures and training have not been able to calm them.

Our temperatures range from low 80’s in the summer to a few degrees below 0 in the winter. Our temperatures are very comfortable with low humidity and few bugs. Good for sleeping nights with the windows open in the summer and cozy in the winter. Even in the winter when the temperatures drop at night the days are comfortable around 20-30 degrees.

For more on Ed and Laurie Essex or Bruce and Carol McElmurray visit their web site or blog site captioned above.


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