Advent/New Year/Resolutions/Challenges

When do you make New Year resolutions, and what do you call them? Are you mostly successful or do you lose resolve somewhere about mid-February? December 1, 2013 is the first Sunday in Advent. Because this is the season we prepare for the coming of Christ, and Advent marks the new liturgical year, it’s the time I make New Year’s resolutions. I prefer to call my resolutions “challenges” because that is how they often feel … Continue reading

Leigh makes some thoughtful observations  in her Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading? blog post. She makes comparisons of consumer/profit vs agrarian  mindsets. Her observations are summed up in the following paragraph:

“I’m writing this because I have made an interesting observation. It is that despite our different social, cultural, religious, and political backgrounds, homesteaders have one significant thing in common, i.e. the sense that the modern, consumer/profit mindset is flawed. That it’s forgotten things that are important. That it can provide neither true security, nor a sense of individual life purpose.”

Leigh prompted me to think a lot about the differences in these points of view. I think the willingness to sacrifice is an essential component in the differences she outlines. Our consumer driven, instant-gratification oriented culture pushes the virtue of sacrifice aside. I don’t mean to imply that only homesteaders understand sacrifice. I do think that it is more a part of their everyday life.
What do you think?

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Planning – Learn From Our Mistakes

Our first mistake was not having a master plan before we began. We started with 20 acres covered with Scotch and Red Pines and whittled out an area for a house. I had dreams of homesteading again, as I had in north Florida, but we were building the house ourselves and that would take time. We had only a vague concept of where livestock shelters, pastures and gardens would be located. Admittedly, it was hard to visualize with all the pine trees in the way.
When the barn was built, we did not give proper consideration to situating the doors. We found out that first winter that there was a serious design flaw. The snow slides off the metal roof and lands right in front of both the barn doors. Happy shoveling! Next year that will be changed, as I no longer have the stamina to dig walkways through massive piles of snow.

The cute little barn with the door in the wrong place

Once we had buildings and livestock panels for pens, we started adding different kinds of livestock. It would have been better adding one species per year and working out all the kinks before adding another. That would have given us time to evaluate what was working and what needed to be improved for one type of animal at a time. When shelter, fencing, gates, feeders and special handling equipment were optimal for one species, then another could be added. Because of our haste to be up and running,  we still have pastures without proper gates and have to build a temporary race each year when we shear and worm the sheep.
These are a few of the blunders we made. What would you do differently on your farmstead?

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Setting Goals on the Homestead

Winter time seems to be the best time to plan projects for the farm. However, the desire to be out and doing can result in an overabundance of projects on the to do list. Having too many new ventures for one season may result in becoming overwhelmed with many unfinished projects. By prioritizing the list, you can focus on the most important endeavors first. They are often the most involved and costly. You can do research and super plan those projects, so you will know the true cost of materials and all the possible pitfalls before the actual work begins. Develop a three or five year plan for your farmstead, so you have a direction. Reassess the projects and goals at the end of each season and modify or eliminate them if necessary. There are many things I would like to do, but time, strength and finances will allow me to do only so much each season. Presently, we raise sheep, chickens and a garden. The farm is a work in progress as I search for ways to work smarter and eliminate some of the hard labor.

Our Goals – Sheep

We used to have dairy goats. I was the only family member who liked the milk. The goats were very hard on the fencing, and the cost and labor couldn’t be justified for just one person. We also had sheep. They weren’t hard on the fencing and we all like lamb and knit outerwear. We got out of goats and concentrated our energies on the sheep.
Over the next three years we hope to transition from the large, commercial ewes to primitive Shetland Sheep. Shetlands are a small, primitive breed that are parasite resistant and have fleece that is superior to our commercial ewe’s fiber. One Shetland ewe eats about 1/2 of what a Suffolk ewe eats. They also do well on a grass diet without supplemental grain. The drawback is the small lamb size. The Bluefaced Leicester (BFL) is a breed that was developed for cross breeding on smaller ewes to produce a larger “mule” ewe. We added a BFL ram last year to cross on our commercial ewes and are pleased with his offspring. Two Shetland ewes were purchased in the fall. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first Shetland/BFL lambs in April. This is an experiment that we won’t know the results of until next winter when we butcher lambs and make comparisons between the commercial and Shetland/BFL offspring.

Instead of having laying hens and raising Cornish X chickens for meat (as we do each year), we wanted a standard, dual purpose bird. We like the flavor of the standard chickens better. We purchased 26 Buckeye chicks in September and will taste a few later this month. We will only be raising these birds for our own eggs and meat so six hens and a rooster will be all we keep for breeding stock. The rest will fill our freezer. If we like the flavor, we will move forward and raise Buckeyes for meat. Dealing with one sustainable breed eliminates ordering meat birds each year. If the hens will set and raise their own offspring, we won’t have to mess around with brooding a bunch of chicks.

We raise a couple of feeder hogs each year but are fascinated by the American Guinea Hogs. They are a small, docile breed that is well suited for pasture raising. We decided last summer to give them a try. This spring we hope to raise a few of this breed to see how they taste and how easy they are to handle. If we like them, then we will add a breeding trio in 2012.

My arthritic bones protest mightily after tilling. Me operating a machine to work the ground ain’t happenin’ no more. I could hire it done each year. For about the same price, mulch hay can be purchased and delivered to be used in a deep mulch system. Ruth Stout made this method famous and I’ve been a fan for years. The deep mulch method will add nutrients and build structure, something our sandy soil is in desperate need of. It will also hold moisture in the ground.  My herb and flower garden flourishes with her method of laying down mulch thick enough to smother weeds. Until last fall, I just never laid out the cash to mulch the entire vegetable garden. The garden was thickly mulched this fall and there are spare bales on hand to continue to maintain that thick layer.

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