Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of Goats, Chickens, Junk Mail and Cheese-Making

One of these things is not like the other.
One of these things is not the same.
Dah dah dah dah duh dah dah...oh you get the point.

So, I have decided that the family needs to be more self-sufficient, not in a hippy "get off the grid, man" kind of way, but in a "hey, what I really believe is that our lifestyles when we were living rurally, growing our food largely and buying locally was healthier for everyone involved, including the ecology" kind of way. Not that there's anything wrong with getting off the grid, and I certainly commend anyone with the resources to do it. I'm looking for baby steps right now, and baby steps involve things I know.

I know chickens. I know goats. Both of these animals will be great animals for this particular homestead as we do have 3 boys, one of whom is just entering teenagerhood (with the accompanying stomach) and two others that follow closely on his heels. We live in the woods, but there are 12 acres available to us, and though I'll have to build a super-heavy-duty henhouse and goat shed...the thought of having fresh eggs, of waking up to the sweet sounds and smells (not bad smells - if any of these animals smell bad then they aren't being taken care of properly) of the animals as they await their morning rations. It's work, yes, but it's GOOD work. It's the kind of work that you lay down at night and think - wow, I was productive and I was needed.

Which is not the feeling I get when I come home every day from my day job (although I have just elected to work in academia so I may no longer feel that way very soon). Regardless, there are so many benefits here, the downsides are:
a. convincing the Reluctant Farmhusband that we do, in fact, NEED chickens and goats
b. convincing the elder ex-Farmfolks that on their land it would be an improvement and would benefit the family
c. obviously the getting tied down etc., which I already am due to the other animals so we might as well just add to the list.

So, the first order of business for this Farmwife (Wannabe, I know) is to research and read. Which is how I deal with everything (am I suited for academia or what). By now I have researched every breed of dairy and meat goat that exist on this continent and every use and season and...I still come up with wanting Nubians. I grew up with Nubian goats and for anyone who hasn't seen one, prepare to fall in love. They are the CUTEST things ever if you love floppy ears and personality galore.

nubian goat picture
Picture courtesy of

Nubians also have a really high milkfat percentage in their milk which makes them great for cheesemaking. So, this weekend, I'm going to venture into my first experimental cheeses with goats milk that I can buy, so that I can get all the botches out of the way in preparation for winning over the Reluctant Farmhusband. If I can make some decent cheese, baby, I'm in like flynn.

Chickens are another matter. We had Rhode Island Reds and Banties when I was a kid. The Banties were fun little birds but the Reds were...better layers? I guess? I don't really remember so I need to do some research on that. I'm studying plans to build a hawk/bear/raccoon/weasel/local cat and dog/anything else that wants to eat my chickens coop that still allows them to free range during the day. I'm thinking I'm going to have to use electric netting, but I'm still concerned about the red tail that I see right outside my back porch in the mornings. He could swoop off with a chicken a day, easily. He's a biggun.

So what about junk mail, well, today, I pick up a mailing from Redwings horse sanctuary ( from my mailbox. Perhaps it's a bit ironic because they are not a place I have donated to in the past (though I have donated to other rescues) nor do I know anything about them, nor could they POSSIBLY know that I just bought an auction horse. I'm not sure how I feel about the mailing yet, they invoke the same thing in me that the Humane Society group mailings always did. It's sad - the situations are sad. But somehow I feel like rescuing Iggy from a bad situation and ensuring that his situation stays part of my part. There IS a glut of unwanted horses in the market - the auction prices told me that. Iggy has years potentially left in him, yes, even years left as a pleasant trail riding horse (well, on trails that are trimmed back high!). He would have been shipped from auction to auction until finally ending up up North somewhere.

But at the same time, I'm not anti-slaughter. I'm anti-inhumane slaughter. I'm bummed that in most areas of the US I can't take my old horse and return them to the hounds as they do in VA. I don't have enough land to bury him, and I don't even know if there are renderers that will take them in this part of the country (post-mortem, obviously).

To me, death with dignity doesn't mean necessarily being propped up on many medications just to stay alive. It means having a peaceful death and having my death MEAN something. Perhaps that's why I'm so attracted to having a small farm, a small farm is in balance. The manure fertilizes the crops that feed the people and the animals that make the manure to feed the crops to... (yes, it's more complex involving bugs and organisms and chickens are great for all of that but you get my point). To be fodder for some other critter after death would be a great honor for ME, and that option isn't available to me as a human. Culling herds of chickens, goats and other animals is hard - and to apply it to horses seems unthinkable - but we do the same with dogs and cats. I have an asthmatic cat, who, as long as I can keep him relatively comfortable on the medicine that he's on (which isn't expensive) has a safe refuge here. But when he becomes uncomfortable, he deserves to pass on with dignity.

I don't know, I'm rambling, but it made me think. And thinking...well, it makes me type.

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