Friday, November 15, 2013

When everything goes to Hell in a handbasket.

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.


Jocelyn said...

Very honest. It's hard to be honest about yourself sometimes, I think. Homesteading is not easy. It is not cheap. Things don't go the way you think they will. All this is true. The blogs that make it all look so pretty and tidy and like everything goes well all the time drive me crazy, because it just ain't so. Thanks for your post, it was refreshing and real.

Sue said...

I think this just goes to show that some people are tough--and prevail no matter what. You've had it tough. Maybe a plan might have helped---but hubby and I had a plan and stuck to it and we had endless wrenches thrown at us from all directions as well.
I always hate reading blogs from people starting out that you KNOW are going to fail...and fail BIG---because they go into it full bore, from a totally sheltered life , with NO BACKUP (friends, family, whatever). You're fortunate to have had a good support system and a JOB and a tough as hell mindset.
You're an inspiration to many. Keep that great attitude. And get rid of the things that aren't working......even if it means taking a loss. Sanity is worth far more than that!

Candy C. said...

It is way too easy for us middle-aged, want to experience it all homesteaders to take on more than we should sometimes. Been there, done that. Perhaps it's time for the goats to move on down the road to someone else's farm so that you can concentrate on the critters that truly bring you joy! And don't beat yourself up, I think you are doing a fabulous job, especially all by yourself! {{HUGS}}

Tyche's Minder said...

It is hard to do the farm gig and the off-farm gig at the same time. And it's double hard to do it alone. There is a reason farmers had families back in the day. Some things really do take a village. I see the blogworld as a little part of my village these days. All the old guy farmers in the area gather at the local McDonalds every morning to shoot the breeze. Good old-fashioning networking, information sharing and village-supporting. You can bet they help each other out when it's needed. But there aren't any women in their circle. I come to the internet. Next best thing. If I were local to you, I'd help you wrangle those goats in a heartbeat. As is, I can listen to your woes though, no problem. And I really soak up all the experiences other people share, so that I am a little better prepared if I decide to try something. If I had any good information myself, I'd share it. :)

DFW said...

Thank you for a honest & heartfelt post. Many of us are heading in the same direction you went & any advise & shared experiences is always welcome.

Mama Pea said...

I think every comment above mine has said what I wanted to say to you.

It doesn't matter how good "a plan" you have, as Jocelyn said, "Things don't go the way you think they will." Period. And there's absolutely nothing you can do about some circumstances. So stop beating yourself up about what you see as your shortcomings (which are not shortcomings!).

You have done WONDERS in your few years of homesteading. One person to do everything that gets done, most of your waking hours spent at a job off the homestead, being a good friend, supporting your parents in so many ways . . . I don't know how you do it.

Don't consider yourself a failure at anything you've tried. The failure part would be if you hadn't had the gumption, energy and spirit to follow your dreams.

Candy said it: Don't think about losing a bit of money (or even a big bit -- Sue has already said your sanity is worth more than dollars, hard won though those dollars may be), get rid of those animals that aren't bringing you joy. Know when it's time to get rid of what's not working. (If only we had understood how important that was in years past!)

Tyche, and all the rest of us in similar circumstances, stand and applaud you for being honest. She has a good point in saying we all benefit from hearing "the truth." Perhaps it is only folks who are not attempting the homesteading thing (and ALL that encompasses) look at our honesty as whining and complaining. A whiner and complainer would never have been able to do all you have.

Hubby and I have been at this style of life for nearly fifty years now and we're still working waaaay too hard and constantly hitting road blocks that seem to come out of nowhere. Boy howdy, could I "whine and complain" about the bugaboos and glitches in our days lately! We talk now and then about writing a book detailing the hard physical work and the three-steps-forward-two-steps-back emotional drain of (nearly daily) happenings. Oh, yeah, that would be a best seller, wouldn't it? (Most people think we're stoopid for our lifestyle as it is!)

DFW thanks you for an honest and heartfelt post. Me, too!

Kelly said...

Having a plan would make everything more disappointing when it didn't work out. You are an inspiration to woman homesteaders! You have more energy than most people and you have a great sense of humor!
In my situation, in the two years having goats my house hasn't been very clean. They are a lot of work. I can't imagine having an outside job and doing what I do everyday. You are WONDER WOMAN!!!

thecrazysheeplady said...

Hang in there. Regroup. Breathe.

Carolyn said...

I'm sorry you're having a "WHY do I have a farm?!" kind'a moments (or days...or weeks....or...). But I agree with everything everyone else has said and thank you for your honest telling of how things REALLY are. I know it's kind'a cliche, but I've always said I don't regret what I've done, they are all learning experiences. Sometimes it just takes a little more "learning" than other times to figure things out though :)

Susan said...

I agree with everything you've said and the comments too. A good lesson to us all to review and rethink how we do things. The good news is your lifestyle has riches undreamed of by lesser mortals not least of which must be confidence in one's self to achieve so much despite the hardships.

Janice Grinyer said...

Oh you silly little sausage - you forgot the most important thing in all of homesteading in your essay!!!!!


having a plan is good, preparation is even better, but in order to be successful, rather then carrying the guilt around like sloppy buckets of manure that you "mentally dump" on every poor living animal soul with lavished attention, you have to forgive yourself, learn exactly what happened, and move on. We all have to.

otherwise we would have to live in the city ;p

You are one tough homesteader - keep it up, youre doing good. Nothings burned down yet, right ;) ?


ps are you catholic? because that catholic guilt thang' transfers onto the most weirdest milking goats...

LindaCO said...

I'm sorry to hear about these hardships. Sure, things will eventually pass, but I sympathize with how things pile up and are overwhelming sometimes. FWIW, you've got my very high admiration for what you do.

Jenyfer Matthews said...


Unknown said...

I don't know how you do it alone too! Even our urban homesteading, small scale, has been a real learning curve. Stupid mistakes, lack of attention. Ah well, we just keep plugging away :)