Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What we don't tell you.

(Sorry for the sudden change of design, but I needed something more....uplifting!)
Those of us who have chosen a farm-oriented, more self-sustaining life are very "in" these days.  I think that there are a lot of women and men who are looking for more meaning in their lives, to have more control over how they eat, what they eat, and that they will have something to eat.  There is so much tragedy in the news - dire predictions, global threats - it's very unnerving.  And, as most "in" things, people tend to get all romantic about living the farming life - making cheese, milking cows/goats/camels (just wanted to be sure you were paying attention), harvesting basketfuls of vegetables from your garden, gathering eggs, and on it goes.  What you don't see behind these sunny scenes, is the morning you wake up with the flu and, no matter how wretched you feel, there is no one but you to feed the sheep, let the chickens out, feed the dogs, make sure everyone has water.  You spend hours and money building up your garden, only to have too much/too little rain, blossom end rot, insect invasions, a chicken stampede undo a season's harvest.  And you were counting on that harvest (that's the self-sufficient part).  It's 95 degrees, you have a bushel of produce that's on the brink of going bad - you have to can it.  Then Agnes calls and invites you over for a lovely glass of wine on the deck.  Torn?  You betcha.  You give your regrets to Agnes and stay home and can in the sweltering heat because those vegetables will feed you this winter.
  Want to take a week's vacation?  Wonderful - that is, if you can find someone reliable and reasonable to stay at your farm and take over your chores.  Love the idea of goat's milk cheese?  Marvelous!  Be ready to house, feed, care for, and milk your goats every single day - 24/7.  No time off for holidays or good behavior.  Someone has to gather the eggs, clean the waterers, buy feed, muck out stalls, stack hay, move fences.  And that someone is you.  Even with two, it's an endless cycle.
   Like most fads, people are taking the bit in their teeth and running headlong into setting up their own farm without enough research or backup to see them through.  Unfortunately, the ones who really suffer the lack of foresight/knowledge are the animals who are brought into the mix.  Chickens who are killed by predators, when all they needed was a simple, secure building.  Animals left to 'free range' who were not meant to, and suffered from lack of proper nutrition.  It's a darn shame. 
   I am not complaining, because this is the life I chose.  Honestly, I did not know the half of what I was getting into, but I made a commitment when I added animals to my life and I take what I do seriously.  I am responsible for the health and well-being of four Icelandic sheep, one llama, one rabbit, four ducks, a myriad of chickens, two dogs, and three cats.  And, ahem, a middle-aged woman.  I set up a system that works for me and I work in what I can when it feels right (as in more sheep and rabbits).  I am lucky I have friends and neighbors who will lend a hand when I need them, and I will do the same for them.  But most of it I do myself, and it ain't always easy.  I have an indescribable sense of well-being and accomplishment when I come in at night, after making sure everyone is safe and sound.  I can look at the cooling array of canning jars and know that I am doing my best to take care of myself.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.


  1. Susan, you nailed it. And I cannot give you enough credit. I simply do not know how a single person (woman or Norwegian bachelor farmer) can do it. My hubby and I are not lazy. We're both strong and can both put in a day's hard labor even at our advanced old age. ;o) But so often we feel we aren't doing it right, or doing enough, or making sure all the animals are taken care of as well as possible without feeling totally exhausted and wondering just why we've chosen this type of life. Oh yeah, and when do we fit in the "free" time or time off for ourselves?

    Obviously if we weren't dedicated (for the reasons you mentioned), we wouldn't still be here. But, again I say, for anyone doing it by themselves, my hat's off to you.

  2. And just where is a Norwegian bachelor when I need him???? Mama Pea, I read your blog and I know how much hard work is involved in what you do - even with the two of you. But you are up to the task!

    Melanie, amen is right.

  3. You got it. I was raised by a single mother (still single and "homesteading") so I understand!
    Had to laugh at the flu bit: our heifer freshened the morning (about 6 hours before) our daughter was released from the hospital. We all came down with noro-virus but I'd been driving out and checking her for a week, and managed not to get sick until the day she calved...woohoo. It sure tested my commitment - training a cow to milk and enduring flu. You come out the other side of things like that feeling pretty "accomplished" though, and producing/harvesting for yourself is fulfilling like nothing else I've found :) Nice to hear that you've had a similar go with it.

  4. Erin, it's all about timing, isn't it? I would love to have my milk cow at home, but I would have to retire first and build a proper barn. I am lucky that my neighbor, a dairy farmer, is housing her for me. It's a grand life for someone who likes the feel of real accomplishment, isn't it?