“You Live A Hard Life”

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Yes.  Yes I do.  And I would not trade it for anything.  Most days anyway.  So before you choose to take on a farm or try to be self-sustaining, please remember this……it is a hard life.  Rewarding, but a lot of hard work.

In addition to normal household duties and off the farm jobs that I have to maintain, I am needed at the farm at least every 12 hours.  The feeding and caring for the animals has to be done twice a day.  Then there are the additional things that are always coming up like hauling gravel, playing with a poltergeist that stops my ram pump when I get 100 feet away no matter how long I stand there in the first place, fixing fences, dealing with broken water pipes, sloshing through mud, digging ditches, dealing with cobbled together things, catching escapees, and the list goes on.  I live without electricity and that presents its own set of complications.  I am an expert in multiple uses for wire clothes hangers, duct tape, and baling twine.  And where I live, there is always a need.

But the person that made that comment has not been around a farm in the spring.  That is when things get really hard…..and really exciting.

Spring brings birthing.  This alone can be hard if there are complications.  I have had to help goats birth enough times that I am now fairly competent at it.  But it still does not calm the fears that come with it.  How do I know for sure that she really needs help or if I am being over anxious?  Which part of the baby am I feeling, and which way do I turn it to help it be born?  And will it be okay?  I have done some drastic measures to resuscitate babies.  But the fun associated with newborns is like nothing else.  Nothing yet has beaten the sheer pleasure of watching a newborn baby goat learn to walk.  That only takes a few minutes….then they learn to run and jump!  Watching their antics is worth all the work.  When that time comes, I will be posting stories, pictures and maybe videos.  This year I will have sheep to birth….and a foal.  And a little later, piglets.  I have some learning to do about those, but they can’t be much different than goats or puppies.  I love farming.  The learning process never ends.

I used to live by the clock, never missing chore time by more than 15 minutes either way.  But I have lightened up.  I do have a little bit of a life that I like to live outside the farm, so to make up for a big time delay I split the difference.  I have had some 2 gallon a day milkers and I do respect the pain that the goats are in when they are in top production, so I try not to mess with their timing. Then there is the feeding the babies, because I bottle feed them.  And I usually purchase a baby calf around that time and bottle feed him too.  Early in their lives I feed every few hours, so I have to be home for that.  Life off the farm is almost non-existent for a couple of months in the spring.

I love making soap and cheese.   With an abundance of milk, it has to be used.  So I will be making some of my favorite goat milk soaps and offering them for sale here soon.  I have some that are left over from a few years ago that I am using until I get some more made.  I love homemade soaps.  I feel cleaner using them than anything else. As I make soaps I will be sharing how to do it at that time.  And I have totally missed my favorite chevre cheeses.  Those are a must have…..as soon as I can.  All these take work and skills that I have built up over time.  And a host of tools that need to be made or acquired.  I will be sharing more of these as I get back into the swing of life on the farm and the times are right.

Gardening is another springtime love of mine.  Selecting, ordering, starting, and sharing seeds.  Preparing the ground for the garden, pruning fruit trees, and then planting.  That takes a lot of time and work that starts in the spring and continues throughout the summer and fall.  I also will be winter gardening next year, but that is another story.

Yes, I live a hard life, but there are great rewards that far outweigh the comfort of a house in town and a fancy car.  I love the life that I live and there are very few things that I would change about it.

I live in the country surrounded by wildlife…….fresh air and stars.

I forage for wild foods……these are full of nutrition.

I do not have a boss that tells me what to do with my time…….I choose.

I do not have to drive to work in heavy traffic…..I walk out my front door.

I am never bored…..there are many different jobs to choose from.

I watch things come to life…..and die.

I am always learning……it never ends.

I have the opportunity to learn whatever skills I want……and I have.

I eat very wholesome foods….and have stayed away from the doctor for 23 years.

The reward of being self sustaining is like nothing else that I have ever experienced.

 

What kinds of things are you interested in learning about?  I have been living this way for years so if I have done it, I will share what I know.

And So It Starts. One Person’s Fight Against Winter

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It first makes its appearance with the rain.  Mud.  Especially where the animals walk the most and where they eat.  So begins the yearly fight against the elements.  I always dig ditches while it is raining.  I can see where the water is going and how best to redirect it.  I don’t know why I have to redig these every year.  Maybe I don’t dig deep enough or the animals walk through it enough to plug the ditches back up.  I know it would be easier with a backhoe or something to change the shape of the landscape, but it is a rare thing for me to be able to afford to use one, so I dig and dig again.  And then cover the eating places with woodchips.  I hate seeing my animals covered in mud.  So I am hauling woodchips most of the winter.

The mud is not limited to the animal areas.  It comes into the house with me.  Even when I take my boots off at the door, it follows me in.  Having a clean house during the winter is nearly impossible.  Since I am now living in a travel trailer, it is especially frustrating. And there are times when I have to make a quick trip into the house to get a tool or put the eggs in the refrigerator, or my children and friends come in.  I do not make a rule about shoes and maybe I should.  But I definitely need a covered porch.  When the shoes do come off, they are dropping mud where we are walking in our socks……and being tracked around.  And then there are the dogs.  They are always wet and muddy.  But pets are pets and I do not leave them outside.

The next problems come with the freeze.  Some of my water pipes are not underground and neither is my ram pump, so already this fall I have fixed 2 broken pipes and a valve on my pump.  The pipes are being buried now, but I still have hoses to and from my trailer that freeze.  That means that I have to haul water and not take showers……yeesh.  And haul water to all the animals by bucketsful from my pond.  It is a good thing that they don’t drink quite as much as when it is hot.  I would be at chores all day.

Snow………  We have not had that yet this year, but I know the score.  Leaving my car over a half mile away and walking in and out of the driveway.  You know the old lie about going to school uphill both ways?  Well at my house it is true.  I live on the far side of a valley, so to I have a fairly steep hill on both ends of the driveway.  With snow and ice, there is no getting out with my car.  I have yet to be able to afford a 4X4 which would make it easier, but I still would not totally trust it.

Having a generator that supplements the lack of sunlight for the solar panel also makes things a little trickier.  I have to have gas.  One year I made some makeshift harnesses for our dogs, strapped them to sleds and had them help us haul 5 gallon cans of gas and groceries home.  They did really well for not knowing what they were supposed to be doing.

I did fairly well keeping the house warm.  We had a large wood stove and plenty of firewood.  The mornings would be cold after a night with the fire damped down, but the main living area could be maintained at a comfortable temperature.  The same cannot be said for a travel trailer.  It is always cold.  The furnace kicks on and heats until it is really warm, then it gets really cold again before it kicks back on.  I will be looking for a more stable source of heat.  Maybe long johns.  Maybe I will build an enclosed porch and put a wood stove in it.  The video I watched about heating with tea lights is nice.  It does put out some heat, but it cannot combat the freeze and lack of insulation in my trailer.  So here I sit with a lap blanket and coat.  And just for your information, I totally LOVE hot water bottles to warm my feet in bed at night.  I cannot sleep at all if my feet are cold, so this has been a total llifesaver.

What are the frustrations that you combat all winter and how do you do it?  What kinds of things do you do to stay warm?

The Care and Feeding of Cast Iron

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I have a fondness for cast iron skillets.  I do not know why.  I have gathered up a ton of them over the years and cook in them almost exclusively.  But being the frugal person that I am, I have only purchased a couple of them new.  The rest have come from second hand and antique stores.  These have been loved by the original owner and then abandoned by their offspring.  That is something I don’t understand.  Why anyone who grew up with a parent using these could choose to use anything else.

Here is what I know about the newfangled cookware.

  • They are light weight.  That is not really a benefit.  The heat does not transfer all through the pan as well and I have spent too much time scrubbing the bottoms where I have burned a ring of food.  Either that or I have to stay by the stove and stir constantly.  Neither one is appealing to me.  Even the copper bottom pans do not work as well as cast iron.
  • Aluminum pans have been associated with the increase in likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders.  I want to keep my brain….thank you very much.
  • Non-stick cookware is coated with Teflon.  That saves the scrubbing.  You can leave one of these sitting with food in it for days and all you have to do to clean it is to take a rag and wipe it out.  But there is a huge disadvantage to using Teflon.  It is made of ammonium perfluorooctanoate.  For me, if I cannot pronounce it, I distrust it.  So to make it easier for us laypeople, it is known as C-8, which has been linked to cancer, organ damage and other health effects in tests on laboratory animals.  So I won’t use that either.

Now here is the coolest part to me of using cast iron.  I get trace amounts of iron in my foods and never have to take supplements.  In fact, when I took pre-natal vitamins these overdosed me with iron.  And the over-abundance of iron in my blood caused me to have miscarriages.  So that is something to be aware of.  I had 3 babies without being anemic after I started using cast iron.

So for those of you who would like to use cast iron, there are a few things that you need to know.

  • When you buy them at antique stores, they will probably be rusty and ugly, but that is okay.  What I do is to take a metal scouring pad to it with a touch of soap and scrub all the rust and old seasoning off of it.  I have used a small putty knife to chip away at things if needed.  If it does not come off then I have used a wire grinding wheel.  This should be done outside because it spreads lots of dust.  These old pans are usually very smooth on the bottom once they get clean and I like these the best.
  • Some of the new ones that I have seen have circular ridges in the bottom.  I do not like those so I had my husband take it and grind it down with a grinder until it was smooth.  I do not know the reason for the ridges, but before I ground it down, it was harder to clean and I kept tearing up my eggs when I tried to turn them.
  • Once they are clean, rub them all over the inside with olive oil and put in your oven for about 1 hour at 200 degrees.  This puts a seasoning seal on it.

There.  Now you have one of the best cooking skillets that you could ever own.

Now for the unusual upkeep.  Never ever use soap in your cast iron again.  To clean, scrub with your stainless scrubbing pad and hot water.  Wipe dry.  Do not let water sit in your cast iron or you will have to start over at the beginning again.  For a while, recoat with a little olive oil after cleaning and wipe with a paper towel.  One of the frustrating things about cast iron is that I almost never get it put away.  It is always on my stove.  Where I am living now I do not have convenient hooks on the wall, so to put them in the bottom of a drawer is a nuisance. But I do use them every day so it all balances out.

When you get to looking for cast iron pans, you will be amazed at all the options.  I have skillets from 3” to18”, Dutch ovens of different sizes, saucepans, cornstick pans, cake pans.  One of my favorite skillets is one that has 2 parts, a 6” deep skillet and a 2” deep skillet that can also be used for a lid.  And I have flat skillets for pancakes and eggs.  Oh, what variety there is in the cast iron world.  Go on an adventure and see what you can find.  Then let me know what you find and how you like them.

How NOT to pick a goat.

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The year is 1986.  We are in the process of closing on the purchase of 5 acres in the middle of nowhere.  I had always wanted to farm and here was my chance coming up.  One of the first things that I really wanted was a Jersey milk cow.  I loved the color, the delicate faces, and the gentle temperament that I had seen in ones that friends had.  So I started looking for a cow…..but they were hugely expensive.  I could buy a young heifer at about 2 months old for $1000 and then would have to wait 2 years to breed her and another year before I could get milk.  That was the least expensive way to go.

I don’t remember how I found the goat.  But there it was.  A goat that would have a baby in a couple of months and it was only $50.  That would work until I could get enough saved up for a Jersey.  I had 2 young sons and wanted good milk for them.  So I purchased her.  Since I was living in an apartment complex until the closing date, I asked my Dad to let her stay there.  That is where the fun started.  I did not know that they were very herd oriented and would be noisy when alone.  Very noisy.  My Dad is one that likes quiet so that did not go over very well at all.  And to make matters worse this was a Nubian goat and, as I was to learn, the breed that tends to be noisier than the rest……on good days.  We moved her to our new home as quickly as possible and housed her under the porch for a few weeks.  Sometimes eagerness is not well rewarded.

I love the wide range of color combinations of the Nubian breed.  And the long floppy ears…….adorable.  I like the good rich milk and the abundance of it.  So I was happy, I thought.  Except for the noise.  I had Nubians for years and I do not think I ever had a whole day when the goats of that breed did not scream their bloody heads off demanding whatever it was that they wanted this time.  And then I wanted to go backpacking with them and I found another problem that would compound the noisiness.  Their attitude is kind of like a cat…….they do whatever they want whenever they want.  If I want something?  Tough.

So it was that I needed to find a goat breed that was what I really wanted.  What about the Jersey?  Not in the plan any more.  I loved the fact that I could buy 5-10 goats for what one cow would cost.  I could feed 11 for the feed cost of one cow.  And I could get the same amount of milk from 5 goats that one cow could produce.  And the damage to the pasture was a lot less with goats.  I could haul goats in my car.  I could have them in the house if they were really sick.  And if one died, all my money was not in that one.  They were easily manageable and really lovable……even with the big mouths.  And there is absolutely nothing more adorable than a baby goat!  That is when I really researched the breeds.

What I came up with were Saanen and LaMancha goats.  Those breeds were quieter.  They were more like dogs in the way that they love their people and would follow us anywhere.  The Saanens are primarily white and produces a lot of milk but is usually lower in butterfat.  LaManchas have short, stubby elf ears and come in wide variety of colors too.  I have had other breeds, but for me, these are the ones that I prefer.  My daughter has researched the Guernsey Goat.  From what she has learned, they have butterfat content close to the richness of Half and Half.  So we have gotten a buck kid for breeding next year.  We will see how my Saanen and the Guernsey mix and let you know.

The lesson learned?  Research a little, before I get started.  There is lots of information out there.  What do you want to do with your goat?  Milk?  Butter?  Cheese?  Backpack?  Is there close neighbors? Will you take them to shows?  Soap?  Lots of blackberries?  (Quick note for here…….when you are ready to go picking blackberries, let your girls at the vines first.  They will eat off leaves and make picking a lot easier!  They do not eat the berries.)

What lesson have you learned from jumping into a project before you really researched it?  Please share.

 

For further reading, Countryside & Small Stock Journal

Raising Our Own

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I have written about getting good wholesome, organic, grass fed meats, eggs, and dairy for better health.  I had a farm for all the growing up years of my children where I did just that.  We raised our own.  When I had to make my own living outside the home too, I found that it was too much to do.  So I gave up most of my animals and let the garden go back to grass.

That has now changed back.  Thank you God!  I have always loved my farm.  I have loved making things grow and eating the fruits of my own labors.  What a total blessing that has been.  I am getting it back.  Pressed down and shaken together.  The above picture is the current extent of our livestock.

I have had chickens on my farm since early this spring and love having the great eggs that come from well fed chickens.   And I had 6 Muscovy ducks, 2 mothers and 4 babies, but the coyotes have gotten the babies.  I am looking for a farm protecting dog.  I love the dog I have, but he thinks that he is a lap dog and is useless for protecting the stock.

My daughter bought an Arab mare that is pregnant with a Friesian foal.  We have never foaled before but are well acquainted with the process with other animals.  We are looking forward to the birth in June.  The original plan is to sell the foal, but as I look at pictures of the Friesians I may just have to keep it around.  I have trained several horses but it has been years since I started with a baby.

Then came the Katahdin sheep.  These sheep do not need sheered, but shed their coats every spring.  They are mostly bred for meat and that is a new source for me.  I can’t wait to see the babies.

We picked up another 8 chickens and a hen house.  These are of a couple breeds that I have to research.  I know the rooster is Rhode Island Red, but the others are new to me.  I love the learning process.

Next we purchased some Guinea hog mixes.  These are a smaller breed for farmsteading and are easily handled.  I have never produced our own baby pigs but that is now on the agenda. The young females that we have are so cute.  I have heard that they can be trained like dogs.  This I gotta see!

At the same time, we picked up a Holstein beef calf.  Cute little bugger.  I know exactly how to raise him.

We just brought home 2 young LaMancha goats and a milking Saanen.  I have been missing my girls and now I am getting some back.  I am totally looking forward to seeing their babies in the spring.  There is nothing cuter in the whole world than a kid goat learning to run, jump, and play.  We are getting a LaMancha buck for breeding this fall, and a Guernsey buckling for next year.   Hey!  I might even go back packing with my goats again!  That would be exciting.

So here it is.  We are raising our own meat, eggs, and dairy again.  There is no better way to insure that we have a clean wholesome source of food.