I was hesitant to write this post - I didn't want to sound all whiny and complaining. But, really, I'm not. There are many things involved in this lifestyle that are not fun. They are not cheap. They age you and make you miserable and unhappy. Luckily, there are many more things that make you happy. If there weren't, we would all implode.
Since I have received a few emails from people who are considering venturing into this homesteady lifestyle at middle age, I thought it was important to cover some of the shineola that can happen to turn bliss into blisters. Pull out the hankies - this is going to be a long one.
My particular set of circumstances puts me as a single, middle-aged homesteader - with a full time job away from the farm. This brings its own set of challenges. I am certain that, if I had just stuck with a garden and a handful of chickens, my life would have been much easier. I am, however, not one to settle for easy. I had decided early on that I wanted to experience as much and and as full a homesteading, self-sufficient life as I possibly could. Over the years (8), I have raised bees (fail), pigs (fail), sheep (good), goats (bad), quail (fail), rabbits (see quail), turkeys (fail - but it didn't stop me from starting all over again), egg laying chickens (good), meat chickens (good-ish). I also have Jasmine and Alice, Jersey cows, but I am not raising them - my farmer neighbor is. So, needless to say, they are doing fine. They should thank me from the bottoms of their sweet bovine Jersey hearts that I am not all they have.
In many ways, it is amazing that I am where I am now. My biggest problem? I did not have A Plan. I may be a list kind of girl, but I am not a plan kind of girl. Lists fit my fruit-fly-like focus. Plans mean having to sit down with pencil and paper and look into the future, planning obvious steps along the way. I am more of a Carpe Diem sort. That is all well and fine if it's just me and my loyal dogs. But when I start adding livestock into the mix, things can go terribly wrong. I am setting myself up as an example of what NOT to do.
With me so far?
Things started to head south in May. After having paid way too much for my supposed-to-be-registerable-pedigreed-up-the-wahzoo (whole nuther story) Nigerian Dwarf goats, I had big plans to add dairy to my homestead. Somehow, I blanked out on the fact that I have two Jersey cows down the road at my neighbors. Oh, no, I needed the Whole Milking Experience. So Sage was bred, she had two beautiful doelings, and she came home so we could start milking. In my own defense, Sage is a pill. Had I ended up with a non-feral, patient doe, things might have worked out better. But I did not. I figured I had about 40 minutes in the morning for milking. That should be plenty of time. After three straight mornings of wrestling with the lunatic for 35 minutes to get her onto the milking stand, I gave up. Threw in the milker. I still get plenty of nice, raw milk from Jasmine, but now I am saddled with four goats that suck all the air out of the room.
Then Kay died. That had a huge impact on me - not only because I lost such a dear friend, but because she was the veterinary glue that held LLF together. I'd like to point out here that it is very, very, very important - if you have decided to add livestock to your homesteading dream - that you learn basic veterinary skills. You'll have to give shots, drenches, etc. on your own, unless you have a good vet and very deep pockets. I have a good vet, but my pockets are so shallow, they are sewn shut. It turns out I was double-lucky. I have a friend who is now my "Kay". And she is not judgemental, which is good, because I am hard enough on myself as is. She is helping me dehorn the goats and I had asked her to take a look at the sheep, as Linden and Norman limp off and on. After wrestling with the goats, she had just enough time to check the sheep - it could have been hoof rot, but thank goodness it wasn't. Linden just needed a trim on one foot, but poor Linden had broken three of his four hoof nails. This was because: a) his hooves grew long; b) the ground has been wet; c) I did not check his hooves. Trimming hooves is Animal Care 101. I failed the course, and Linden has to suffer for it. We are in the process of working on his feet, and I am keeping the ground around the run-in shed as dry as possible.
Granted, it could have been worse. But I have been overstretched for some time and it's beginning to tear things around the edges. What have I learned? I cannot allow the goats to suck all the time out of my day - then other things suffer (Linden/Norman). The chicken coop, which usually has a nice pre-fall clean out, has not been touched. There were unexpected expenses that tapped the emergency fund (apparently, everything in my life is an emergency), savings and future savings. While it's knocked the wind out of me, I will regroup and it will work out. But not having had a plan early on set me up for this fall.
There. That's off my chest and I hope that helps anyone reading this who is just starting out not to repeat my mistakes. Of course, even when you plan everything to the nth degree, there are always surprises. But that's part of the fun. Being flexible, having good friends and a strong community, and - most of all - having a sense of humor, can get you through the rough bits.