When I start anything, I research, and read, then research some more, then read some more! Then, I talk to people, then I read some more. Then plan. I know just how I want to manage my project for optimal benefits.
But invariably sooner, rather than later, WHACK! There it is- – – some unforeseen event, or variable comes out of the shadows.
I’m here to tell you, it can’t be avoided!
The fact is, things do not look the same way in real life as they do on paper!
I’m a planner. Sometimes, I think I might like planning more than doing. But, in reality, life cannot be put on paper- or even figured out in your head.
You MUST learn to roll with the punches. There WILL be unforeseen glitches, and even disasters!
When people say farming is hard, this is really what they mean. Sure, there is sweat, and toil, sore muscles, and long, long, days – but that is expected, and even welcomed by most. What they are talking about is disappointment, setbacks, heartbreak, and failure! This is hard. And it is, sometimes, a daily process.
Planning is good. Research is good. But the first aspect of success in any farming endeavor is not to bite off too much at a time.
That is hard.
You see, I have this beautiful, all encompassing vision for our homestead. And in this vision, everything works together.
It looks something like this . . . The worms create beautiful castings for the garden AND feed the chickens (and ducks). The chickens and ducks provide us with eggs, and meat, as well as turning vegetable scraps and garden refuse into beautiful garden compost. The garden provides for the Rabbits, Chickens, Ducks, Goats and Geese. The Goats provide us with wonderful milk that can can be turned into cheese, and the whey (a byproduct of the cheese-making) can be fed to the Chickens, Ducks, and Pig. The Chickens, Pig, and even Rabbits help work the garden and develop new garden plots and their composted deep litter provides deep mulch for the gardens, which keeps it healthy and reduces the work load for us! The rabbits also provide meat for us, and the chickens. Perennial trees and bushes are scattered throughout the landscape, providing us with bounty every year with hardly any work on our part. Pastures are lush from the fertilizer of multi-species being rotated on it throughout the year.
Sounds good, right?
Yeah, we’re not there yet.
The homestead learning curve.
You see, it seems right and reasonable on paper that you should be able to purchase start up animals, fences, etc. and plant the trees, bushes, and garden and then be off with your great adventure!
Sorry. Sad, but true. First of all, the rabbit run you build for the garden has some flaws in it. It’s hard to maneuver, and on the uneven ground of the garden, you sometimes miss plugging up a hole and find yourself chasing millions of little bunnies all over the place for hours. And that’s a good case scenario. . . the dog, or some other creature could have eaten them. OR they could have eaten a good portion of your garden! OR, you didn’t know that a 80 pound pig could bend chain link wire (like on a commercial dog kennel!) . . . with it’s snout. And she gets out and decimates your WHOLE WINTER SUPPLY OF GREENS! In 45 minutes. Then, there’s the complexity of the chickens and their fickleness of laying in the winter. Sometimes they stop laying! ALL WINTER, That’s not acceptable, so ya gotta figure that one out! Then, you buy goats for your small landholding, so you can get that glorious milk (and maybe some meat along the way) And they strongly dislike your idea to move them and they’re shelter periodically to new pasture! I guess they won’t eat anywhere near where they sleep? So you need to figure out new grazing options for them because you can’t be feeding them hay all summer! Sometimes, your dog suddenly starts eating chickens, and you are left with a significantly smaller flock in just a few days. OR in your haste to implement your beautiful idea of housing the rabbits in the chicken coop, Salatin style, you hang your cages a bit low and wake up to baby bunnies covered in chicken poop ’cause the chickens thought you’d implemented a new roost. And They Liked It! (it is really hard to get chicken poop out of fine, silky, fluffy bunny fur! Just ask my daughter 🙂 ) and so on, and so on.
Before we even moved to where I could have a garden larger than a postage stamp, I was busy planning out a garden that would provide our family with vegetables for a year. I excitedly figured out how many quarts of tomato sauce, salsa, diced tomatoes, and ketchup we used a year; then set out to figure how many tomato plants we would need to accomplish that goal. I did the figures on green beans, potatoes, summer squash, peppers, etc. Do you think my first year garden produced that much? No Way! It takes years in order to figure out season extension practices that work for you. Picking horn worms off of 40 tomato plants takes hours and hours a week, in that time, something has to give – beans will go unpicked, or weeds will overtake something, and zucchini will grow to the size of a caveman club! If it’s your first year gardening at a place, don’t be overly ambitious. Think of what your family REALLY likes, or what will save you the most money, and concentrate on that vegetable to grow for your yearly consumption. Plan for other vegetables that you like and know how to grow, just not necessarily in quantities required for your families consumption all year. Then plan a small space for a new vegetable that you’d like to grow to try it out. For instance, I really love broccoli raab! I’ve had it a few times in Brooklyn when we’ve visited Farmstead Ed’s family. It’s very hard to find here in SW Missouri. I’ve been trying to grow it for 3 years now and have yet to get enough to saute up for one serving! Our fall and spring temps fluctuate so much, it either bolts, or doesn’t even come up at all! Still, every fall and every spring, I plan a small plot for my Raab. I will get it one day. Stubbornness, pure stubbornness usually prevails at some point! Once you have that down, plan for another vegetable that can grow in quantities your family needs for the whole year. Keep increasing your garden in increments and you won’t have so many earth-shattering failures.
The point is, no matter how much you learn first. there will be kinks to work out because of the specifics of your land, the dynamics of your family, personality of your specific animals, weather, and your chosen management style. Also, a myriad of other factors which are totally unforeseeable!
It’s good to research all about goat browsing and their dietary needs, as well as the fencing systems of others with goats. However, I would advise against a rigid system that will not allow for any flexibility when you get the goats. Goats are stubborn and have definite ideas about what they want to eat and where they will eat it! AND these habits and tastes vary from herd to herd and even individual goats, as well as from season to season and individual “seasons”. You can read all about how Joel Salatin pastures his rabbits, however it is best to start small, with one rabbit run, to see if his particular model will work on your property and with your individual rabbits! Then, if it needs modifications, or you have an idea for a better one for your situation, you won’t be stuck modifying a gazillion rabbit runs- just one. Then you can happily build as many – perfect for you- rabbit runs as you want!
⇒ Go slow. One new project at a time. Master that before you move on to a new one. Overwhelming yourself will only cause discouragement!
⇒ Be flexible. Plan for flexibility. If what you planned is not working out, modify, or go back to the drawing board. What works for everyone else just may not work for you! (sorry, it’s true)
stubborn Persistent. Keep trying and you’ll find the magic formula for you! One thing at a time.
⇒ Enjoy! That’s the main reason you got into this lifestyle, to increase quality of life! Take time each day to walk around your homestead and appreciate the view. Focus on your accomplishments and breath!