Bye-bye Bay View — Hello five acres, four goats, and a passel of chickens
January 31, 2017
When Doreen Hulett opened the city assessor’s blue envelope and saw that their 2014 property taxes had increased to nearly $4,400, she and her husband Darryl Hulett said enough. They pulled up stakes, sold their Bay View home, and left the city.
The 2014 tax bill, Doreen said, coupled with learning that her friend who lived in Brookfield paid significantly less for her property taxes for more land and a bigger and newer house “definitely pushed us into the moving-out-of-Milwaukee mode. When I opened the tax bill that December night and I found they had gone up, that was the final straw.”
The Huletts purchased a home on five acres of rolling land in rural Walworth County where they have established a mini livestock farm. They’ve got hens that produce eggs, and they hope their four goats will soon produce milk because they want to make cheese. They also acquired a Great Pyrenees to protect the chickens and goats.
They bought their bungalow, 3762 S. Pine Ave., in December 1995 to start a family. They paid $84,900 for the home and its 60- by 124-foot lot. Doreen said she doesn’t remember what their property taxes were at the time but said they were considerably lower. So while they benefited from a dramatic increase in the value of their home, they were also saddled with higher and higher property taxes. (The home is currently assessed at $182,600, according to city records. Huletts sold it for $199,900, their asking price.)
By 2014, their two daughters were adults and no longer living at home, easing their decision about leaving Bay View. Doreen was already in the early stages of operating a micro farm within the confines of the city. She wanted to expand.
Not long after it became legal to keep chickens in Milwaukee, she and Darryl acquired four hens. “We had to get permission from the neighbors, but it was worth it. Chickens are darling — we love them,” she said.
Doreen was yearning to have animals that would not have been permitted in Milwaukee. “I wanted more chickens. And goats, and you cannot have that in Milwaukee,” she said.
Doreen Hulett already possessed a taste for a more rural lifestyle. She grew up in a St. Martins, once a freestanding hamlet in Franklin Township. “It was very much an enclave made up mainly of Germans and Irish; one church was for the Germans and the other for the Irish,” she said. My father used to joke, ‘St. Martins — two Catholic churches and three bars — not that saintly.’ At one point, I couldn’t spit, as a kid, without hitting a relative or two; I was related to everybody in St. Martins! It was a great place to grow up,” Doreen said.
Hulett remembers that their neighbors owned cows. Her mother and father came from farming families. “We had no livestock (when I was) growing up, but a very large garden. I grew up in a family of seven kids, so canning and preserving food was essential to keep food costs down,” she said.
By contrast, Darryl was a city kid and grew up on 90th Street and Hampton Avenue in northwest Milwaukee.
Both Doreen and Darryl have kept their long-held, full-time jobs; she’s in the mortgage business and Darryl works in real estate management. They both work in Pewaukee.
While the farming lifestyle was primarily Doreen’s idea, she said Darryl has been greatly supportive of helping her achieve her dream. “Farming’s great, but it’s also hard work. I wouldn’t candy-coat it,” Doreen said.
That would include their experience with acquiring a building permit and the placement of their chicken coop.
“Before we had the barn built, we pulled a permit with the county,” Doreen said. “The site (where the barn was built) was nowhere near where we originally planned it to go, but due to lot lines, we built it down the hill and nearer the road.
When the county (building inspector) came to check on the barn site, he noticed that the shed, currently the chicken coop, did not have a permit. Even though the shed was on the property when the Hulett’s purchased their property, he told them they must either move it or destroy it.
The inspector informed them that they had 30 days to move it and if they failed to do so, they would be fined $600 per day until it was moved. Not knowing how they would move a small building, they contacted neighbors who had recently befriended them. Doreen said
they were the right people to contact because they had grown-up in the area and knew a nearby farmer who brought a front-end loader, lifted the shed, moved it down the hill, and placed it at the site the inspector indicated would be permissible.
Four breeds make up the Huletts’ flock of 30 hens — Barred Rock, Isa Reds, Golden Comets, and Australorps.
“The chickens have great personalities, and it’s quite the lesson to witness the flock hierarchy. They battle each other for positions on the roost at night. The more aged in the flock head to the coop a lot earlier than the younger chickens. The younger chickens are the last to come in at night,” Doreen said.
Their four goats are Oberhasli. According to information provided by The Livestock Conservancy website, Oberhasli is a dairy breed developed in the mountainous Swiss cantons of Bern, Freiburg, Glarus, and Graubunden. The breed, also known as Swiss Alpine, was first imported to the United
States in the early 1900s.
Keeping them healthy and thin, Doreen said with a laugh, is their goat-keeping challenge. “Darryl built a great fence, so the only time they escape is when we don’t close the gate securely,” she said. “They love to give you goat kisses.”
Protecting the animals is an ongoing project but made less onerous since Carlie came onto the scene. The Huletts adopted a Great Pyrenees whose role is livestock guardian, a trait the breed is known for.
When Darryl was searching for adult goats in the winter of 2015/2016, he was referred to a woman who no longer raised goats. She had a livestock guardian dog, Carlie, that she wanted to rehome. They adopted her but her transition to living outdoors full-time penned up with the goats has been a difficult transition for her. She had not served as a working dog and lived with people before her adoption by the Huletts. Now Carlie lives outdoors within the confines of the goat pen fulltime.
“She is a sweet dog who has bonded with the goats incredibly well,” Doreen said. “Darryl went down to the barn on a miserable night, and he witnessed Carlie spooning in the barn door with the two adult goats.
“Her barking has scared off anything that would dare to encroach on her territory or harm her goats or chickens. She has kept foxes, coyotes, hawks, and owls away. It’s not easy keeping chickens alive, but with Carlie’s help, we are a bit less worried.
“We went out to take care of them one day and one of the Australorps was out of the pen. The last Australorp who did that was taken away by a fox. Before Carlie, we had multiple attacks from foxes and coyotes.”
The Huletts have also begun keeping bees, but problems last fall led to colony failure. “We just brought on too much, too fast last year and we weren’t able to devote enough time to the bees,” she said. “It’s a very complex hobby, and if I would have devoted more time to research, I’d have taken the time to care for them better.” Now armed with more knowledge, Hulett said she ordered 60 pounds of bees to repopulate their hives this spring.
Doreen has set aside her enjoyment of reading fiction and instead reads books about animal husbandry.
She plans to make cheese from goat’s milk once the goats kid. “When we started this homestead,’ she said, “we knew every animal would have a purpose and produce food — not meat, as I don’t believe in slaughter, but we get eggs from chickens, the goats will give milk, and the bees are for honey and pollination.” She hopes to convince Darryl to get a cow. They have also designated an area of their property for an apple and/or cherry orchard.
The Huletts maintain a 600-square-foot garden, approximately twice the size of their garden in Bay View. They grow tomatoes, most of which Doreen cans, along with broccoli, kale, squash, and more. They currently keep much of what they grow for themselves, but they may offer a community supported agriculture program (CSA) in the future. “Our full-time jobs really don’t permit the time commitment for that yet. But honestly, we grow waaaay more food than I can eat in a year. I still have dehydrated vegetables from two years ago. Darryl doesn’t enjoy eating vegetables, so it’s usually just me eating them,” she said. She added, “I saw a cute saying on Facebook — If you want to become a millionaire with a homestead, then you better have started out as a billionaire.”
She said they would definitely add a greenhouse to grow tomatoes in winter.
“This summer I want to hold a few workshops for making tofu, tempeh, or fermented foods. We’ll see how the cabbage goes and if it’s a good crop, we’ll make sauerkraut,” she said.
Hulett praised her country neighbors, most of whom are eager to help with farm tasks. “Chad and Allison (Reichenberger) are the best! They have taken care of the animals while we were gone to [our daughter’s] wedding,” Doreen said. They lent us a rototiller, plowed our snowy driveway, helped us move our shed, and towed my niece out when she got stuck in our driveway. There is so much more they have done for us, and we cannot repay them enough. And Ben, who has a farm down the road a bit, delivers hay bales for us, seeing we don’t have a pickup yet.”
Do they miss anything about city living?
They miss the Humboldt Park beer garden and an occasional night out at Chill on the Hill. “I like concerts and now they are harder to get to because we’re so busy and so far away but we have fun here,” Doreen said. “We grab a couple of beers and sit on our deck and look at our beautiful lot and the critters. It’s pretty satisfying.”
Connect with the Huletts via Doreen’s blog, veggiesandcheeseandeggs.com, or their Facebook page, TheHulettHomestead.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to the Bay View Compass.
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