I seem to be doing this a lot lately. I’ve changed my mind. Not because I want to but because it isn’t working. When you are setting up a self-sufficient homestead, flexibility is a must. And though there are lots of books out there on the subject, there are non written for your individual property and needs. We raised for twenty-nine years in a coral set up. Had it worked out. But a new location with different weather and forage capabilities can change how you do things. We have kid in the early spring, let the kids nurse two months or a little longer, and weaned the kids in a separate pen for three months.
But I wonder, was nursing them smart? It only takes two months to bottle feed and it takes three months to wean them. The kids miss out on summer pasture all together as they are stuck in a pen to wean them off from their mother. Yet we did this for three year on this property.
I don’t know if we would have noticed how nonsensical this was had Tilly and Buttermilk not proven themselves to be such escape artist nor Comedy, their mom, so determined to nurse them. What looked like an easier route having mom do the nursing chores really is not easier since we’d have to feed kids in a pen for three months. It does not make sense economically since pasture could be feeding them instead of hay. Problems are not always a bad thing as they make us reevaluate what we are doing and gain a clearer picture.
With all the calamity going on in our lives, I’ve decided it definitely would have been wise to start small with the animal projects and worked our way up. Instead we have decided to work our way down. Then when I have put together the nine rabbit cages I still have in boxes, built the rabbit tractor for grazing, and helped hubby build the rabbit house, we will feel the rabbit project is set up. For goats we need a kid goat shed and pen, buck shed fixed, and gates. For the chickens we need nesting boxes, two brooding cages, and a rooster pen with shed. The pasture has t-posts down the middle of it but no fence. Last but not least we need to build another pen in the barn. In others words lots and lots to do for just these three species of animals.
We have learned much over the five years living here. We have gone beyond the twenty some years of just having livestock to attempting self-sufficiency with them. Two totally different things. We’ve tried things that definitely did not work but taught us lessons that will lead to success. We learned that rabbits for us are easier and less vulnerable to predators on our land. So meat rabbits over chickens for meat. Yes, we will let a few hens set to keep a turn over of egg layers and this will give us some meat but not push for a larger meat supply. Your story and ours may not be the same.
Your set up and type of predators will change how you do things. The last two years we had lots of trouble with fox and coyotes with the chickens but the neighbors pitched in and now those numbers are lowered. Right now it is skunks and racoon. I saw a big boar racoon at the neighbors barn yesterday as we drove by. The same neighbor’s dog has been skunk sprayed seven times this spring- pew wee! We found a family of six nested under the milking barn this week. Between Kirk and I they are gone. Can only imagine the danger and problems with six skunks and four kids in a barnyard. Heart wrenching since the babies were so small. Also this past week a bull snake coiled next our granddaughter. Had her shaking. If it had slithered away when given two opportunities I would not have killed it and it would not have been eaten by the free roaming chickens. Bull snake numbers are high this year.
Our poor nine year old granddaughter now adds in her prayers, “Lord please bless we don’t have to kill any more wild animals.” Amen to that! There has been too much death this week, especially since we also had to shoot Caroline, the pet lamb. The kids left the gate open and Kirk did not see her with the setting sun in his eyes as he drove into the yard. It paralyzed her back end and she was in extreme pain. That has devastated the whole family, especially him. Oh how we LOVED our Caroline and had plans for her. The kids had a funeral for her today extolling all of her wonderful virtues. Wild flowers adorn her grave. With other problems big and small rolling in waves this week, we have had to really count our blessings to keep our chins up.
To cut back on livestock numbers seems wise right now. When the goats, chickens, and rabbits get squared away, we might try Dorper sheep once more. There are many things that are just enough different about them from the typically sheep we’ve raised in the past, that they might fit in nicely with our plans and available pasture.
One thing I know for certain is that self-sufficiency does not happen over night. It is a long journey comprising of many years of effort, mistakes, laughter, tears and just plain learning. Self-sufficiency is something very personal and one size does not fit all. You can’t buy it in a store or copy it from your neighbor. But I can teach you, and you can teach me things that makes it easier. To adapt to an inconsistent environment frustrates, challenges, and plane keeps us on our toes. But there is nothing like the wonderful feeling of doing it yourself.