The holidays are past and it is time for me to get back to work.
We had a very busy holiday season. Our home was invaded by loved ones. For Thanksgiving six of our family members came for ten days and another four for just the weekend. We also had several friends over for the day, bringing the total of people who ate here to 32, with an additional 6 for dessert. I was in heaven, as Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. My oldest daughter was thrilled to help with “the feast” (she refused to refer to the day by the it’s name).
Unusually, I had not completed my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. Part of this was due to the fact that we planned to spend the Christmas holiday in Wisconsin, where we had both grown up. We had not done that since 2004, so there were extended family members who had never seen our kids. Many people were looking forward to our visit. I spent the better part of two weeks shopping and shipping, in between my normal chores and activities-who would think this would be exhausting?
We made the 1200 + mile drive over the weekend, with four kids in the back of a Dodge Caravan. (Thanks in large part to the wonderful person who invented car DVD systems.) While it is not a drive I like to make, I loved the trip!!! It was wonderful to see so many people, and it was really fun to share our new lifestyle.
My husband’s uncle could not get over the fact that we had eaten a snake. His grandparents were blown away by how many things I can or choose to make for myself. For the family Christmas Eve party the adults participated in a fun and funny version of White Elephant gifting, and a box of homemade jellies were my contribution. I was proud to see that they were well received. Everyone was very curious about the Prickly Pear jelly, specifically.
But best of all, I got a couple of really exciting books for Christmas. The first was called Gaining Ground by Forrest Prichard, and I read it in just 2 days. I loved everything about it, and it gave me some variations to ideas I was already playing with for our own property. The second was Folks, This Ain’t Normal by Joel Salatin. I’m still making my way through that one, but definitely enjoying the ideas.
One of the ideas that I really solidified while reading these books was to put my animals to work around the house, too. Our dogs are truly companions, and not trained to be completing traditional dog jobs, but they are a true security system. The one barn cat, and now the kitten (who prefers the company of the family and dogs, so makes use of the dog door) are supposed to be on rodent duty. The girls told every family member on our family vacation that our chickens have lots of jobs: laying eggs, eating bugs, scratching out weeds, eating the seed pods from my mimosa tree, and being dinner. That currently leaves the pig needing an occupation.
Until recently, Bacon Bit was housed in the pen we created as a chick brooder/tractor. It is 12 foot by 12 foot, so not a ton of space, but we were moving it very regularly, so I knew he was getting fresh grass and not sitting in his wastes. But, he did seem frustrated, bored, and he was getting much too pushy. Additionally, we have a section of yard that has been a mess since we started remodeling the house, two years ago.
This area is at the front of the house, between a parking spot and the bedroom windows. There are chunks of stone and rubble from the foundation there, it is uneven, has two tree stumps, and the remains of someone’s attempt at a flower bed. It was impossible to mow, because you always hit a rock or something. I would walk a weed eater through it on occasion, but otherwise let it sit growing weeds. To add insult to injury, it has become the dogs’ favorite toilet spot. I dreamed of clearing it out, tilling it, and making a permanent flower and garlic bed in the area.
Reading about how well plowed the soil is after Mr. Prichard or Mr. Salatin move their pigs from a pasture got me imagining my future flower bed again, without the weed eater, mower, or tiller. So, my husband set up a sturdy temporary fence about 25 feet by 15 feet, put a shelter in, and we moved our pig. He has been instantly much happier. We see him digging, running, sunning, even playing with an overlooked dog toy. He is also furrowing through some of that very difficult area. I plan to give him a few weeks to really clear quite a bit, and then we are already planning a second temporary pen for him. Woo hoo, talk about a no work garden!
Other new plans include raising a flock of turkeys for ourselves and a number of friends and family members this year (the one disappointment to my holiday was that the turkey we ate was a store bought, probably factory raised, critter and not something that came from our own land and work). Originally I had hoped to get 5 turkey poults to start my own flock, but it seems we’ll be getting 15 (as 12 of which will have a home in someone else’s cook pot) and picking my favorites to continue a flock. (Good thing Bacon Bit just moved out of my brooder…)
Finally, we are finalizing plans to finish the fencing on several partial pastures, as I want to put together a plan similar to the turkey raising for a small herd of grass fed beef and goats. This is still a little vague, as I am working on costs, raising times, and the interest of my family members, but I feel strongly that this is a much better use of this land than just a place to play on the four wheeler.
In months past I have been concerned about trying to raise animals other than house pets. I have experience with house pets, but none with livestock. I have had dogs, cats, and even parrots my entire life. I have ridden horses and even worked in the barn at the summer camp I once worked, but that was as close as I had gotten to farming experience. Unfortunately, to add to my uncertainty, I don’t have any relatives with whom to compare notes. My father’s father was a part time farmer and civil engineer, but he died when my dad was in high school. I have to go back another generation on my mother’s side, to my great-grandparents to know someone who was involved in agriculture beyond possibly having a kitchen garden, and they had also passed on before I could know them. Spending this Christmas season with my husband’s extended family I found that we have to go to his great-grandparents, too to find farming experience. It seems that there is no one with knowledge and experience that would also be invested in our success to turn to for advice.
Finding that what we are currently doing inspired interest and excitement in our family helped to change my feelings. Realizing that I had already had some winning experiences with chickens and now the pig also bolstered my spirits. Finally, reading about others who are really trying-and sometimes failing-to make the same changes in their lives and those of their families has helped me to find a well of determination.
I can make the changes I need to make to live this new, sometimes scary, really fun, homestead lifestyle!