Late 2012 we purchased a 640-acre homestead located in the West Central mountains of Idaho, escaping California before it imploded upon itself. The property had been vacant for 6 years before we purchased it. It was run-down, neglected and overgrazed with no infrastructure except for a 100+ year old barn, a few ancient outbuildings, a carport, garage and the small farmhouse that was desperately in need of a good coat of paint (or two) .

The only irrigation water source for the 74 acres of pasture comes from a 4 mile long earthen ditch. And like the rest of the homestead, the irrigation system was also in disrepair, overgrown with trees, grasses and shrubs that compromised the integrity of the ditch but also provided cover for rodents and other burrowing animals like coyotes, squirrels or badgers. It starts at the creeks’ edge out in a floodplain, traverses up hill traveling along a steep hillside where it will cascade down as a ‘waterfall’ back onto flatter ground. The ground is generally rocky terrain and gravelly. The closer to the creek, the more vegetation and growth along the ditch which soon transforms into the high desert landscape. It traverses across 4 parcels before reaching our land. That in itself is a challenge dealing with different individuals whom have their own idea as to how you may use or operate your ditch.

All irrigation for this property is done by flood irrigation and is another learning curve. Not that it is a mystery. When I was a kid, our family had 40 acres of orange trees in the San Joaquin Valley in California. The orange grove was irrigated with a type of flood irrigation where the water ran in furrows along the trees. For over 30 years it was a system that was used the entire time our family owned it.

But back to the ranch here in Idaho, our farm house was built in 1916 and stood vacant in a hay field down the road for many years. In 1942 it was purchased for $500 and moved to this property after the original homestead burned from a chimney fire. Their family recollections was that it was caused by a bird or rat nest in the chimney.

When we purchased the farm we had intended to farm conventionally… or is that traditionally?? … as many farms and ranches have been run throughout the ages. Mr. H worked on his uncle’s farm during his childhood and into his teens. So visions of farming like it had been in the past and like most other farmers in the area was to be our plan. You know, the usual activities of tillage, mono-crops, pivots, fertilizers, pesticides, etc… and have cattle, some poultry and a small garden. But farm equipment is expensive as is all the inputs and implements that go with cropping and those ideas were put aside while we sorted out how to obtain that goal. But we moved forward with the purchase of ‘the herd’ in 2015 … 5 head of cattle total. A 2-yr old bull, 2 two-year old heifers and 2 bred cows that were to calve that spring.

The herd has grown since then…

Fast forward to today… not much has changed around here…. well, okay, maybe just a little bit. The house got some paint, there is the addition of a couple pieces of old equipment – one of which is the original John Deere B tractor that was used by the previous owner on this land – a couple of used atv’s and wagons to carry tools or fence posts instead of hand carrying them, the earthen ditch system is running due to the improvements and repairs made to the ditch, diversion and weir. The irrigation methods on the land are still the same…. flood irrigation… and we have multiple species of livestock.

With no ‘magic checkbook” for ‘traditional’ farming and ranching methods, we began research to farm on the cheap … well, maybe ‘cheap’ is the wrong word… on how to farm more efficiently with regard to all the factors without the traditions or local customs that appear to be inefficient. I don’t believe farmers and ranchers want to waste their time and money but it appears they have been misled by the money behind the methods touted to them. And maybe a little fear of change. Afterall, ‘we’ve always done it this way’!

We stumbled across an old ‘new’ way of farming. I don’t remember how it started except reading Joel Salatin’s book You Can Farm. It began a thirst to learn more about a common sense way method of working with nature and not against it and still be good stewards of the land and livestock. Who wants to ruin their land and soil biology with the overuse of chemicals and tillage? We surely don’t want to drop calves on the ground in winter with a foot of snow or knee-deep in mud, risking the loss of a calf. Why waste the time, fuel and money to keep poisoning the beneficial insects who use the ‘weeds’ that only grow back year-after-year when the livestock will actually eat them? (the weeds, not the bugs).

We’ve learned a lot because we didn’t have the resources for tradition. That situation made us open our minds and try something different. We used the livestock to work the land with the methods of controlled grazing using temporary electric fencing. Not using insecticides that hurt dung beetles or soil microbes. Soon we noticed a change in the soil and grasses. The land appears to be regenerating back to life… without the use of chemicals or tillage. When the spring thaw came the water used to flood across all parts of the property. Now it mostly soaks in to replenish the aquifers. The hard pan seems to be changing into soil that is more porous and alive. There are more species of wildlife and insects. Species of grasses and legumes popping up when there weren’t those species there before. Weeds seems to be decreasing naturally without the use of chemicals. And the grasses appear to be staying greener longer and filling in more across the paddocks and fields.

Then September 8, 2020 brought a new challenge. The human-caused Woodhead Fire burned the majority of our property. Thankfully, no loss of structures, but a great loss of forage, vegetation and fencing. Now we had the challenge of feeding cattle several months before we would have normally. Not to mention having to get the fencing repaired, erosion control, damage to the ditch that will gather spring flooding and, (fill in here) …. all before winter blows in, combined with our daily chores and tasks.

But our farm and ranch is a work in progress with challenges and adventures. Come follow our family of 5, plus the motley cast of animal characters, on the journey of regenerative agriculture as we all work to bring this land back to life and productivity. Oh, and hopefully enjoy a good story or two.

Thanks for following us along.
Until next time…
~Karen (aka … hobo)

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