Well, it’s official. October marks one year since we started this blog. To be sure, we moved here last June, but it wasn’t until about now in 2016 that we started getting down to business with homesteading. We’ve learned quite a bit in this past year’s time. Reading will only get you so far; as much as I’d like to think that I know it all because I have Professor Google by my side, we’ve found that books and the internet are poor substitutes for hands on experience. Here is my non-comprehensive list of things that said hands on experience has taught us:
1. Consider the placement of the compost pile. Then reconsider it. Then reconsider it again. Ad infinitum.
This stands at the top of our list because you just haven’t lived until you’ve had to move a compost pile wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow. We thought we had a good place for ours; it was close to the barn where we could easily dump waste, but still tucked away into an area surrounded by trees and brush. Sounds like a brilliant set up, right? Wrong! The leaves fell in autumn and our compost pile stuck out like an ugly sore thumb. I didn’t want our neighbors to have to look at that (heck, I didn’t want to look at it) so I moved it. Then, when we realized that we wanted to expand the goat yard right where we had relocated it, it was clear that we had to move the compost pile yet again. Not fun.
2. I can be sane, or I can have clean water for the poultry. I can’t have both.
Any book that I’ve read stresses the importance of providing fresh, clean water for ducks and chickens. The thing is they like to wash their beaks and bills in their water, which quickly dirties it. It takes seconds for the birds to make a mess of their water. Yes, I am fond of hyperbole, but I am not making use of it here. It isn’t uncommon for a duck to waddle herself over and dunk her beak, caked with dirt from searching for grubs, directly into the water while I’m still refilling it! I’ve had to make peace with the fact that as long as I rinse out the pool and refill it once a day, it’s okay if their water is murky. That’s just the way it has to be.
3. The first products from the homestead may be useless. And that’s okay.
I knew this. I planned and anticipated that everything we try out for the first time wouldn’t be edible/useful. I underestimated how frustrating it can be. Some things have turned out very well from the go… maple sugaring was a great example. Other things, like the garden and cheesemaking, have been an arduous process to learn. The garden is a sorry tale, and there’s only one type of cheese that we’ve really got the hang of making. Ironically, it’s type that we don’t particularly care for. The gouda, the chèvre, and the mozzarella have all been tough to get correct. At least the chickens are pleased with our mishaps. We did manage to get a cheddar that turned out pretty well, though.
4. Food is GOOD!
I’ve never considered myself a food connoisseur, but recently I’ve realized how good that food can taste. Even from bumbling, neophyte cheesemakers such as us, the cheddar we made ranks amongst artisan cheeses – so much better than a generic white block that you can get vacuum-sealed from the store. Food can have so much flavor. SO MUCH FLAVOR! That’s what makes trying to get it right again and again and again and again and again and again and again worth it.
5. Don’t do too much too fast
Ahem. My wife has had to remind me of this several times this last year, usually when I bring up the subject of sheep. Besides the very legitimate point that if you go all in at once you’ll get burned out, there’s also the equally important fact that we have our whole lives in front of us; there’s no need to do it all now. Where’s the fun in not having anything to look forward too?
6. Fewer, higher producing animals are a better model
I’m all about saving heritage breeds and all, but for the backyard homestead fewer animals that produce higher amounts are preferable. Sure, having an extra 5 ducks might only take a few more minutes and a few more cents in feed per day. Over the course of the week and month, those few minutes and few cents add up to the point where it’s sucking the life out of you and it’s no longer fun. Dual purpose breeds sound great, but as my father-in-law aptly put it “you just wind up with 2 compromises.” Besides, there are still plenty of heritage breeds that are good producers – the Silver Appleyards that we raise are one of them.
7. Goats are awesome
They’re fastidious, they don’t smell, they’re gentle with the kids, and they’re genuinely pleasant animals to be around. Plus, their milk is good. Yes, we’ve had some problems with Flora’s milk, but that’s been more of a bump in the road. Trust me, the milk is GOOD. I was reminded of this when trying store-boughten milk after having only raw, fresh milk for an extended period of time. The contrast was so stark my initial thought was that it had gone bad. Never underestimate the factor of freshness… see point 4 on this.
8. The simple joys in life are the best
Savoring a brick of good cheese (can you tell what’s on my mind as I write this?), teaching your 7-year-old how to milk, finding a clutch of freshly laid eggs in a nest box, plucking the first few peaches from a young fruit tree, making apple butter together as a family… thanks be to God for it all. Knowing contentment that can only come from the simple joys in life has to be one of the greatest gifts He has given us.
Photo credit: http://www.raisingsheep.net/shetland.html