Monday, October 9, 2017

Adding Goats to Your Homestead?

A while back I wrote a post about adding chickens to your homestead. Once you've tackled that task, and gotten used to having poultry around, you might want to move on to another type of livestock.  If you're considering goats, first you need to decide what their purpose will be- milk, meat, fiber, or a combination. Once you've figured that out, you can hit the internet to do your research on different breeds of goats. Just like you did with the chickens, look for breeds that are compatible with your climate. Also find the ones that will fit in your land space. While you're looking, check out shelter and fencing requirements.  By the way, are your goats going to have horns? Are you going to keep a buck or arrange for stud service? There's a lot to learn before you make a purchase! Find your county extension agent or visit a neighboring goat farm before you invest!

I really can't add anything to all that expertise. BUT I do think it's important to also prepare yourself for how owning goats can change your life. I can add my own experiences to help you mentally meet the challenge and make sure you're up to the daily added responsibilities of owning goats if you follow these simple instructions. Ready? Here we go...

Step 1- You'll need two people for this one.
Mark off the outside perimeter of your imaginary goat pen. Inside this space, walk around and randomly toss a large box full of Cocoa Puffs on the ground. Then take a leaf rake and try to sweep up all the Cocoa Puffs while your partner randomly tosses another box full of them out, AT THE SAME TIME. Take turns doing this for hours until you just. give. up.

Step 2-  Again with two people.
First decide where your gate will be. Give your partner a charcoal briquette. Walk through your imaginary gate with a bucket full of feed held up high over your head while your partner tries to decorate your clothes with the charcoal. Once you can get through the gate without spilling the bucket AND dodging the "hoof prints" you can consider yourself a pro!

Step 3- Go to the farm store and price goat fencing. Faint. Convince yourself you can use the cheaper fence instead. Practice calling in escapees with a bucket of grain and replacing your neighbor's rose bushes.

Step 4- Decide which one of your family is going to give up their Christmas for the cost of goat fencing.

Step 5- Find a good hay supply. Bust open a bale and throw half of it on the ground, where goats don't eat. Every day. 

Step 6- Decide what you're going to feed your goats on the days when they do not like the hay.

The rest of the steps are my personal suggestions for dairy goats.

Step 7- Set an alarm for milking time. Head out to the pen at this time every day. Milking gets done in sickness and health, good weather and bad, til drying up time.

Step 8- Clean off the coldest shelf in your fridge and fill it full of mason jars. Rotate the jars every day so the oldest gets used first. Utilize the "glare of death" on anyone who tries to rearrange the jars.

And finally, when you're just about ready to pull your hair out...

Step 7-Imagine there are baby goats bouncing (yes, bouncing!) around inside the imaginary pen. And then there's a mama goat, bleating because she wants her neck scratched. Or a buck who's blubbering and making funny faces. And don't manage to get anything else done within sight of that goat pen with ALL THE CUTENESS. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Keeping It Simple- Part 3

After reading the last two entries about my life before adopting simpler practices, you might think I was so busy that I never got time for rest and relaxation. Rightly so! We did take the occasional trip in the summers to visit a city where DH was working. But with 4 youngsters in tow I wasn't keen on making those trips very often. Instead we found ways to entertain them closer to home or at home. We had the (in my naive opinion) required gaming system, satellite tv, swimming pool, camper, vcrs, dvd players, and YMCA memberships. All those things that entertained but were expensive to maintain or required purchasing upgrades and supplies.

The first thing to go in this new life was the swimming pool. Oh my gosh- the money we spent on chemicals for that thing and the hours I spent cleaning it- what a relief! The satellite system went shortly after that. No more flipping through a hundred channels before proclaiming "there's nothing on tv." Next we cancelled the Y membership. I've forgotten how many times I drove 20 minutes to walk around an indoor walking track and then drive 20 minutes back home. The camper still sits in the backyard. But the tires have gone bad and won't be replaced until we find a REALLY good deal on them. So what does someone living a simple life do for fun? There's so many things!

These are some of the ways we find to unwind and recharge or to get a thrill in no certain order. As they pop into my head, I'll share them with you. Keep in mind that, although we are living simple, we haven't turned our backs on modern technology as long as it doesn't exceed a very reasonable budget and doesn't cause more anxiety than it relieves.

Almost every day I set aside 10-20 minutes for the sun. If I miss the sunrise, I try to catch the sunset. It's different every single time! Once I made it a habit, I can really tell a difference in my attitude if I miss it for a day or two. The time it takes to watch the sun do it's thing is like a mental vacation. Coming up or going down, is a masterpiece!

We still enjoy camping and a few years ago we added backpacking to the fun. It's challenging to find a trail, study the conditions, plan supplies, and doing the actual hike. But waking up in a tent beside a lake, sipping coffee by a campfire, listening to squirrels scamper away, are all perks. When we can't get away from the homestead to camp, you might find us out in that old camper in the backyard, especially if there's a rainy night when we're yearning for the sound of the rain on a metal roof. That's the best sleeping!

We still have a tv and occasionally enjoy a good movie or tv series. Instead of paying for all the channels we don't want, we have a Netflix subscription and Amazon Prime videos (remember the free shipping I wanted?) These are perfect for us because we're not tied to a network schedule or a movie goers expense. We can make our own snacks and the dog gets to watch too. She loves tv night!

Since DH is still on the road most of the time, and without 4 youngsters to pack and plan for, I do go to stay with him from time to time. One of the ways we amuse ourselves in other cities is by geocaching. We have geocaching apps on our phones and are quite happy spending time together on a treasure hunt. We even take off on mini trips around home to spend an afternoon looking locally.

This past year we both decided to learn to play the guitar. I invested in a year of lessons at the local music store and shared what I learned with DH. We aren't ever going to be concert guitarists but we enjoy sitting around in the evening strumming and singing for our own pleasure.

DH likes to challenge me to board games. Here lately we've been playing Mancala. I usually let him win (we don't need to share that with him though, do we?)

We also have a lot of fun cooking together. I like to hunt for new recipes on the internet and we pick one to try our hands at. Because of the layout of our kitchen, we bump into each other a lot. DH can get rather messy so I follow him around with a dishcloth. We usually end up kissing or laughing before we get the dish made but we've also created some lovely meals. When we're finished eating the grand experiments, DH will declare which ones are "keepers."

So there's a few of the everyday simple things we do to have fun. What would you add to the list?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Keeping It Simple- Part 2

In part one of this series I shared a little of my "pre-simple" life. A lot of my days were spent driving around- the dry cleaners, WalMart, McDonald s, WalMart, the gas station, WalMart, pay bills, WalMart, a doctors appointment, WalMart,  ... In my frenzy to get everyone where they needed to be and still keep them fed and supplied for school and activities, I spent a lot of time and money at WalMart, the only store in town to carry a lot of the things we needed. Sometimes I'd even go before work to pick up a forgotten item. This was pure insanity! At the time I'd justify all these trips as sensible because I was trying to get everything done around work and school schedules. I used a lot of fuel in those days. A lot.

Now that I am adopting a simpler lifestyle, I've learned to manage my fuel usage a lot better. It didn't take a whole lot of effort because leaving the homestead is less enjoyable now. Except for some occasional socializing, I'd prefer to stay home most days. 

I still have to provide elderly transportation to doctors and we still have to stock up on items at WalMart. Plus with the added critters there are trips for feed and hay. And there are the times we plan a road trip or a visit to see the grandson an hour away. We aren't hermits by any means! But since a big chunk of my day isn't locked up at a "paying job" I can schedule these things in a much more efficient way, spending one day in town to get several things done. 

I've also come to really appreciate online shopping. A few clicks on the computer and vet meds, coffee beans, and other things that I'd have to visit a farther town to find, show up on my doorstep! Free shipping is such a fun find! 

By simplifying my schedule and time management, I've been able to cut my fuel usage down to a tank or less per week. Before I would have been filling up every 3-4 days.  Simple saving on fuel!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Keeping it Simple- Part 1

Once upon a time I would have already been at work at a "paying" job right now. With my mini van safely parked outside and a mug full of secretary-made coffee in hand, I'd have been taking attendance in a classroom or running copies of tests or telling someone not to run in the hallway for the umpteenth time. By the end of the work day I would have been frazzled. But at 3:30 in the afternoon, I wasn't done. Once the kids were all rounded up in that mini van we would start the after school errands and activities. Sometimes homework and dinner would all be done in that vehicle. Lots of times we didn't roll in to the driveway until after 10:00. That went on for years. With a husband who was on the road 25 days of the month, I wasn't a single parent but I lived like one. The stress was unimaginable, it still makes me sad to remember it. I thought I was working to help pay the bills and give my kids a better life. Now I can see (hindsight 20/20 and all that) how wrong I was. Once I'd divided my paycheck into work clothes and fuel and fast food and all the other things I bought as time savers, I'd worn myself out for a sub par life. I could have done better by staying at home and being frugal with the one paycheck! I wrote all that to show why I find a simple life so rewarding- because I have been on the other side of the fence, mowed it, and found it wasn't greener! 

I'm going to split this series into 3 topics: food, fuel, and fun. There's a whole lot more than these areas but we will explore them later. Today I'm going to talk about one of my favorite things, food!

We raise most of our own food (but not all of it, not even as much as we'd like) for lots of reasons. We know what went into it. We don't have to worry about recalls. And we enjoy it.

Every morning, as I walk out to scoop a bucket of pellets for the goats, I've got a cup of freshly roasted coffee in hand. I get greeted by their sweet nickering. By the time I've got them fed, I've also scratched their necks and had my tee shirt nibbled on. Even the stinky bucks want to nuzzle my hand. Sure I see the manure and wasted hay that's gonna need cleaned up later in the day- and I know it's going to cause a backache- but the view of the sunrise and the way the kids bounce around keep a smile on my face. Right now the mama goat is dried up but, come spring, there will be milking and cheese making to do.

Next up is the chicken pen, and as I open the gate I can almost imagine them collectively shouting "FREEDOM" as they race into the yard to scratch for green bits and bugs. For the rest of the day I will hear clucking and crowing each time I step outside. After I scoop their feed into the feeder, I'll check to see if there were any early eggs laid. Then I make my way to the rabbit cages.

The rabbits like to greet me by hopping and thumping. The bucks especially thump because they know morning time is when they get their "dates" if it is time. They also look forward to the twigs I snap off the apple trees or the dandelion and plantain leaves from the yard or the extra cabbage leaves from the garden.

Our garden has been a source of great pleasure this year! We didn't plant as much of a variety as usual but what we did plant was bountiful. We're still getting tomatoes and peppers. And the raised bed experiment looks promising with radishes and carrots and beans sprouting!

I don't know if there's a good way to describe the feeling you get when you sit down to a homegrown meal. Even after these few years of living this way, it still smacks us sometimes when we realize everything on our plates was from our little acre. It's a soul-deep satisfaction that can almost bring tears to your eyes (maybe that's just me?) but until you've experienced it for yourself, I don't think there's words to adequately prepare you. 

There's much more care not to waste anything when we've invested our time and labor into producing our own. We freeze, can, dehydrate, and share our excess. What can't be saved or donated is fed back to our critters and composted into the garden.

 It's an awesome feeling to open the freezer and see stacks of homegrown meat and vegetables, to grab a bag of broth instead of opening a cardboard box, to see the strings of peppers and herbs drying in the air, to observe the rainbow of canned goods on a shelf, to crack a fresh-from-the-nest egg into a sizzling cast iron pan. Simple food.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Keeping It Simple

How do you define simple? I like to think of it as the opposite of complicated. Complicated to me is confusion, chaos, and downright tiresome. Simple is peaceful, calming, and rewarding. I know lots of folks who seem to think that in order to be simple, they have to give up modern conveniences. In some instances I agree, but not always. I believe that each individual has to find their own balance of old and new. I also think that finding the balance is important, but tricky. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to find happiness in a simple lifestyle. On this journey of learning about sustainability, I've had many trials of finding what works for me. And despite my best efforts, I haven't got where I want to be yet. But the trip has been so worth it. If someone had told me ten years ago that one day I would be milking my own goat, I would have laughed while I showed them the shelf full of non-fat ultra-pasteurized "fortified" dairy products in my fridge. But maybe skim milk is your thing. Maybe you ride a bicycle or horse everywhere you go. Maybe you sew all your own clothing. Maybe you butcher your own alligators for supper. There are just so many things!

Next week I'm going to share a short series of ways we like to keep it simple. Who knows- maybe you'll see something you'd like to try. Maybe you'll know a way to do things better. Maybe you'll think we're off our rocker. Stop back by to see.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fishing for Solutions

I've had a love/hate relationship with the goat water buckets for a long time. I loved how quick they were to fill and that I could raise and lower their height by hanging them on the fence. And using buckets made it easy to adjust how much water we used in relationship to how many goats were in the pen. But the disadvantages were starting to bug me more. The bucks would bump their buckets causing them to spill out the top third of the water. And although cleaning them was easy, the only way to really get rid of the algae buildup was to use some bleach and that caused the plastic to break down from the scrubbing. **I will add, for anyone thinking of using buckets, that rotating to a clean bucket and hanging the used one to dry EVERY DAY, prevented a lot of the algae to begin with. But it began to feel wasteful and time consuming to keep that up.** So about 2 months ago we decided to experiment with water troughs.

Since our herd is so small, we went with 2 small black rubber troughs. They hold about a week's worth of water at a time. I've been checking for cleanliness and making sure they hold a cool temperature daily. Every couple days I add a little water to top it off and once a week I dump and scrub the algae out. I haven't used any bleach yet but I also haven't been able to get all of the buildup removed. ARGH!

I remembered reading sometime ago, before I even had goats, that some people use goldfish in their water tanks to remove algae and mosquito larvae. I decided to give that a try and this week when we were at a WalMart that has a fish section in their pet department, I picked a few up. We got them installed in their new home a couple days ago. Now we will watch and see how they do!

Do you have experience with using fish in your livestock tanks? I'd love to hear about it in the comment section below!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Raised Bed Experiment Begins

Back in July I shared about the raised beds that Dh had made for me. I've been steadily filling them with kitchen scraps and wasted hay and the cleanings from under the rabbits, chickens, and goats. While DH was home last time, he had to rebuild the goat buck shed- again! He went the extra mile and scooped out the composted manure that I normally clean out in the fall. I used that to finish filling one of the raised beds. 

Today I went through the box of garden seeds and picked out a few packs of old ones that probably wouldn't get used next spring. They're perfect to use on a fall planting "experiment" in the raised bed! Since I'm not counting on any of them to produce well, if even at all, I can just use them to see how these types of plants will do. It's possible that the bed's dirt was still too hot for planting but if I didn't try it soon the frost would prevent success. Oh well, if nothing comes up, I'm not out anything except the time I took to plant it! I'll let you know how it goes.

Here's what I've learned so far- 
1- Even though the added height of the beds will be handy after the plants are in them, it's been pretty difficult to shovel the heavier stuff into them. I don't know if there's a solution to that problem. Luckily, they only will be filled once.
2- We put the drainage holes in the bottom before we started filling in the dirt. Even though we had some rain the last two days, the dirt and other material was still desert dry. I spent a lot of time with the hose this morning trying to wet it down while the water ran out the drainage holes like a sieve. We will probably have to find a way to "shrink" our drainage some how.  

Lettuce, Radish, Carrots, and Beans