Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tough Decisions: A Long-Winded Post.

There are times when I think, had I known the decisions I'd have to make doing this homesteady business, I would have stuck with cats and an apartment.  Hahahahaha - kidding.  They do say that ignorance is bliss, and I believe that is true in my case.  Of course, the more one learns, the less ignorance there is to shield you from the hard decisions.  And the bliss fades a bit.

This year I have to make some decisions that are difficult for me.  I have about four acres, but a lot of it is not suited for farming, grazing or anything useful.  I have a full time job.  I am a single homesteader.  Sustainability or not, it is an expensive undertaking.  I am having to focus on making this place and the animals on it pay for itself/themselves - at least in part.  Right now, I have, in the sheep department:  4 ewes; 5 lambs (with one or two more to come); 1 ram; 1 llama.  I have been waffling back and forth, to and fro about the purpose of my sheep.  Would I raise them for meat?  Would I raise them for milk?  Would I raise them for their fiber?  All three?  Excuse me while I think out loud:  being a long-time follower of Lewis Carroll, I find it difficult to eat anything I've been formally introduced to.  I am too attached to my lambs.  Milking four ewes?  Just when would I squeeze that twice-a-day activity into my schedule?  That leaves me with fiber.  I am good with that.  I happen to have ewes with great fiber, so I am all set there.  Of course, there's the shearing, skirting, processing, dyeing; but let's leave that for a later discussion.  So, we're firm on one llama and four ewes.  The lambs.  There's a dilemma.  I cannot make a firm decision on them until after the ram lamb trade negotiations are over.  I had decided to keep one of Cocoa's lambs this time, so Banyan will stay.  This is Flora's last lambing, so Hazel will stay.  Then, there is Hickory, Acacia and Linden.  And Juno, who is my secret favorite, hasn't even had her lamb(s).  You can see the problem. 

All this rambling to get to this:  I do not need a ram.  I do not need to neuter him because I do not need a PET sheep.  If he had an outstanding fleece, I might consider it - but he doesn't.  And he tends to be prone to respiratory problems.  One sheep with respiratory problems (hello, Flora??) is more than enough.  So I have made the decision to send him to freezer camp.  I have been wrestling with this for weeks, but all indicators point to it being the right decision.  He is getting more aggressive with me and has been shoving the lambs around.  Temperament is a key factor on this homestead.  Not mine, of course.  I'm cranky, but I'm in charge.

Another decision is to cull out a lot of my existing flock of chickens.  I am rather attached to many of them, so this is also a tough decision.  Right now, I probably have 28 birds, including two roosters.  Of those 26 hens, 17-tops- are laying.  I refuse to cull Lucy, even though she probably hasn't laid an egg for three years.  She came with me to this homestead, and she's staying 'til the end.  Then, there is Marie-Claire, super-auntie.  She stays, too.  Junior, rooster #1, will have to go to make room for Kees, rooster #2, my Barnevelder rooster.  Home Girl is going to go be cause she's a mean-tempered thing.  Of my two remaining Ameracauna mixes, one is an egg-eater.  She will have to go for practical reasons.  I will miss her green egg, though.  I am working through the flock to bring it down to 20, total.  I have five Barnevelder hens that stay and four more chicks that I am raising.  I have my work cut out for me, if you pardon the expression.

I am also going to sell my two rescued red angora rabbits.  I had no intention of keeping them and, once I've spruced them up a bit, they are on the market.  All this angst is the result of not having a plan.  With a plan, you have a clear vision of what will work best and make the most sense.  In order to make a small farm pay for itself -- or, at least, pick up some of the slack -- it has to be pretty flexible.  But flexible in an orderly way.  Clear as mud?  I'd be very interested in hearing other views - pro and con.  Like a lot of new adventurers, I  have so much to learn.


  1. We're going through the same thing here, except with kids - the goat type, not the human type :)

    Who do I sell? Who do I keep? And why?

    I wanted milk, but now I've got four milkers, three doelings, three bucklings (soon to be wethers) a buck, and another pet wether. And two of the does are still pregnant - meaning MORE kids to come!

    Sometimes you just have to buckle down & do it. You can't keep them all.....well, you could, but you'd be broke & a nervous wreck!

    Good luck with your decisions, we'll all back you up!

  2. Well, some very personal decisions to make. I always reflect back to Helen and Scott Nearing in 'The good life', when they say 'there is nothing sustainable about keeping animals, even pets'. And I have to agree. You feed them, offer vet care, housing, etc. These costs all add up, and even if you butcher -the price very rarely works out. This said, I have a hard time keeping animals OFF my homestead. I do enjoy having them around (obviously I do not eat any of them, vegetarian-grew up raising beef cows. Just can't eat my charges). And right now I am fighting terrible with a wayward chicken that I can not get in the coop for anything. He has me so mad, he is making me wonder why I keep them at all. So I sympathize. I wish you luck in making the decisions that are right for you :)

  3. CR - Yes, I would like to have the sheep for milk, but not four of them, and I am looking for something smaller and more manageable. That being said, my Jersey & calf are housed at my neighbors. While they are mine, per se, they are not. I need a balance.

    Jane - Your wayward chicken may take care of the problem all by himself, if you've predators like we have. I believe that, even if I followed a vegetarian diet, I would still have the animals. Maybe not as many chickens...

  4. You mention feeling angst without a plan. How very true about much of life. I have been feeling that way lately and will heed your advice. I know that a plan helps so much with clarity but it is the "getting to it" that seems to be a block. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Even when you have a plan, things can go awry.

    Having animals on a homestead adds so much . . . and is so much work and expense. Letting your animals multiply without even realizing what is happening is disasterous. It's hard not to keep a "spare" (or two or six) in case something happens to one (of whichever) animal under your care.

    So you are wise to be putting some thought into knowing you have some decisions to make. You shared with us some intelligent thinking in your post that will lead you to the right decisions for you and your homestead. Each year of breeding and births teaches us something and eventually we get our plan worked out and in place.

    Don't be afraid to make changes though as time and circumstances progress. Nothing has to be cast in stone for eternity.

    Geesh, I sound like I know what I'm talking about. I don't. :o\

  6. Boy,remind me to bite my tongue next time I complain about to much work-you, new york lady /FARMER GAL, have your work cut out- I should send my niece to help you out,but she is in the city [NEW YOUR CITY ] trying to run a photography business just like her sister does in Hibbing MN

  7. Tough choices all. But it sounds like you're giving it lots of thought. I agree with Mama Pea- even with a plan- things go wrong. BUt at least you have an idea of what you want and where you're going.
    With our place, I've been so tempted to just charge ahead and do everything at once. But I've been working hard to not take on too much at once. Chickens this year... but I have to wait until next year to get bees. One new species at a time.
    Good luck with your decisions.

  8. Oh, I wish I had some wise words of wisdom, but I'm going through the same thing here. I'm considering sending one of the goats to freezer camp, too -- but I've been "considering" that for about three months now. The animals bring such joy but as Mama Pea said, also work and expense. Can I continue to justify it? My heart and my head are still duking it out...

  9. Read a great piece a while back about 16 hour milking. If you can deal with slightly off hours (I know you can) you go with a 16 hour cycle, and it was shown you get as much milk production, health of the animals was not affected, and you ease up a bit on the schedule. Start with Monday morning, 6 a.m. Next milking is Monday, 10 p.m. Then Tuesday afternoon at 2. Wednesday, 6 a.m. and so on. I'm thinking of trying it in the future when I can handle a dairy animal so that I don't get stuck in the twice daily, a.m./p.m. schedule.

    BTW- getting equally tired of aggressive nonsense up here as well. But I just may have to tolerate him one more year if Secret doesn't come through. Castration over freezer camp, though. I like his fleece too much. (And NOBODY here eats mutton...)

  10. Hang in there, you've got a plan in mind and good reasons for you to do the things you want/need. I need to do the same thing... Blackjack, the foster lamb that we adopted because he had no where else to go, needs to find a new home. He is a Shetland wether, and I don't do anything with fiber (except attempt to crochet) but there's no way I'll ever spin, card, etc. He's another mouth to feed and money is tight, so I'm working on it. It's hard to do, because I love him, but I've got my mini-horse who is my "soul" food, so...

    I'm proud of you... Hang in there.

  11. "Trust Your Vibes"! I was thinking about you this morning as I have so much to do around the yard and no one to do it but me. No, actually I did hire a HS boy, but he is very busy and cannot be a steady worker. I was thinking how well you have created a "community" of friends to help you and I admire you for that.

  12. As my husband and I embark on the next phase and introduce livestock (chickens), I am already going through this kind of thing. I am nervous that we will become attached to them and not be able to go through with our "plans" sounds like you have given it all a great deal of thought, and have reached sound conclusions. Best of luck to you!

  13. Darn my comment got lost! We always went in together with my Grandpa to rent rams to breed with the flocks (we had about 60 and he had about 90 sheep) and then sent them right back where they came from LOL. We had one "pet" neutered male (long story), but other than throwing his wool in with the others, he definitely didn't earn his keep. Have you looked into alpacas? They are pricey to acquire but command a high price for fiber and their composted manure can be sold for top dollar, they are considered to have the best "poo" LOL! Best of luck, these are all big decisions.

  14. 2 Tramps - A plan is so important, even if you have to change it often. And you are right - it works to have a life plan, too. Wish I had had one back in my mis-spent youth.

    Mama Pea - You do, too, know of what you speak! It's pretty hard to not go all soft with these animals. But, I figure a late plan is better than no plan.

    Judy - Hahahaha, your niece could come up with my sister, who also live in the Apple. A little too much 'fresh air' up here - and the sidewalks roll up at noon!

    Judy/Fullfreezer - You are much wiser than I. Although, as with my bees, the best laid plans are often frought with problems out of your control. I am afraid the bees are an ongoing project - but well worth it. I would suggest starting with at least two hives...

    Fiona - Good luck with your dilemma. I'd be interested to know what you decide.

  15. Melanie - I like the concept, but would have a problem with the earlier afternoon milkings. Not the early morning or late night, though. Is your little guy getting big for his britches? He does have a very nice fleece, though.

    Ruth - We do need our "soul food", don't we? But then there's the cost. I would love to some day have horses, but I'd have to marry rich or win the lottery! I hope you find him a good home.

    Sylvie - I guess I better finish that book! It's all in developing a good routine. I am pretty good at sticking with a routine, it's just all those out-of-the-blue surprises that throw me off.

    BrokenRoad Farm - I used to be in tears any time something happened to a chicken. Now, I am not as deeply affected. I never like to lose one, but it happens. I am also better at realizing that they are not pets - they provide eggs and meat. I do the best I can for them - treat them well, look after their well-being in return. You will be fine.

    Erin - I think that is the best way to breed. I had intended to do that in the future, but now I am rethinking breeding at all. I will have a very nice array of fleece types once it's all shaken out. That will keep me busy. It's just that lambs are so darn cute....

  16. For the record, you do not have to milk the ewes twice a day, if you leave the lambs on. Many Icelandic-keeping shepherds I know separate lambs from moms at night, after the lambs are old enough, with a single-panel fence and milk moms in the morning, taking only what they need and letting the lambs have what is left. You don't even have to milk all of them, or could let them alternate days, or something. My point is, if you want some milk from your ewes, it doesn't have to be a huge time-consuming production. (My DH and I both work full-time off-farm, while raising 30+ Icelandic sheep, 10 llamas, a host of chickens, and expanding to include ducks and a couple of hogs, so we get the time-and-money issues!)

    Turning animals you care for, and about, into meat is a difficult philosphical thing. I feel ill each fall when it is time to load the trailer to freezer camp. I remind myself that those lambs, by their sacrifice, will buy hay for the sheep that remain. It helps. And is there a greater show of respect for our food than to look it in the eye? We shoulder a grave responsibility . . . not only for keeping them alive, but also, sometimes, for deciding who dies. Far better, I think, for some of the lambs to die so that others may live, than for everybody to starve or be sold off in sheer and simple desperation.

    Anyway, best of luck to you. Nobody ever said this was easy, right?

  17. Laura - Thank you for the insight and advice. It is very welcome. I had forgotten the OAD aspect of milking with a lamb. I would like to work toward dairy production of some kind later in my farming 'career' so will file it away for future reference. You have beautiful sheep and llamas. It's nice to have a DH who loves it as much as you. I have always been very partial to Icelandics and think their lambs are so vibrant. I still have a lot to learn.

  18. Laura,
    I too am a single Homesteader and have a full time OTH job. And because of gas going up all the time, I'm only home two days a week right now (round trip to work is 115 miles. I stay with a friend during the work week).
    So its not practicle for me to get any livestock right now. I do have the Worms and providing them with enough food stuff for a week is too hard.
    And the garden is going in. There are three bed built and planted with tomatoes, squash, potatoes and califlower. and so far the rain has done all the watering for me and I have friends next door who help.
    But its still a chalange, but we do the best we can.....Right?