I was hoping to post this last week, but we rented a skid-steer loader and root rake over Thanksgiving weekend that kept us quite busy accomplishing our list of to-do’s before returning it. Then we had an energy crisis when all our generators went “kaput” almost at once. They weren’t made to be used as hard as they’ve been used this year. So everything else is on hold as we work hard to get the rest of the solar panels up this weekend, and, finally, live mostly generator free!
Recently I posted Part One of an overview of our first year here on the off-grid homestead concerning our power system, drilling a well, laundry methods, and greenhouse. Now I’ll focus on the living things on our little homestead.
Our three Nubian milk goats had kids early in the year, making it necessary to streamline the milking area and provide a secure pen for the kids and their mamas. With coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and other wildlife around we didn’t want to risk accidents. Our two dogs, Hershey and Laddie, are a great team in guarding our livestock at night. They are quick to notify us of anything unusual going on. But we would hate to invite trouble by not having proper accomodations.
One dream that came true this year was buying a milk cow! Buttercup is a gentle Jersey cow who supplied us with lots of milk for kefir, cheese, sour cream and butter for several months till we dried her up in anticipation of the calf she was to have in July. She was getting quite large and ready to “pop,” but the calf never came. The former owners thought there must have been a mistake and she was probably bred by the neighbor’s bull a few months later than they thought, making her due in December. Sigh. How discouraging to discover we dried her up several months early and missed out on all that milk! We had stored lots of extra yummy homemade butter in the freezer, but we’ve long since run out and have resorted back to buying less-than-superior store-bought butter again. Bummer!
December was almost here and Buttercup was looking rather lean, so a friend of ours who grew up on a dairy stopped by to check her. He discovered she is carrying no calf! Either she was never properly bred or she miscarried out in the woods somewhere and we never found out. This is a sore disappointment!! What do you do with a wonderful milk cow that is dry and there is no hope of getting more milk from her till she calves again at least nine months from now?!? Our next door neighbor has a bull that we put her in with to see what happens. But if you have any good advice, I’d love to hear it. Should we try selling her, hoping she is bred this time, so the next owners will fare better (who will want a cow that didn’t take last time?) and look for another milk cow, or should we just focus on other things this year and wait for her to calve again? Our goats will kid again soon so we will have their milk, but it is much harder to separate cream from goat milk.
Anyway, the little milking barn connected to the chicken coop that we moved out here last year needed upgrading for all the new activity. The goat milking parlor area was securely enclosed to double as a newborn pen, another goat milking stanchion was built, and a larger milking stall built for Buttercup. The barnyard area got a fence built around it with a runway to the back acres which will one day have several paddocks to rotate grazing areas.
That leads to the fencing…for months it seemed we were constantly building fence, trying to stay ahead of the sneaky goats who managed to find the end of the newest fencing or some other way to get out. They were constantly trying to find some way to our living area to eat our juicy young trees and plants, and they succeeded a few times. As long as the fences were not secure we did not dare buy the fruit trees or anything else we hoped to plant.
Finally the back eight acres had fence all around them, and a new fence was built on the north side of our living area and in the front acres so most of our fence issues are solved. Occasionally the ornery goats still find their way around the field fence near the back of the property where there is still only barbed wire, but now they can’t get into the middle section where we live and are planting all sorts of things. We have a nice board fence in front of our house that completes the enclosure around our garden and orchard area. Ha! Let them try!
As for our other animals…two setting hens hatched a batch of chicks together this summer, and we recently bought some meat chicks which will be ready for butchering in later this month. From the batch of 12 keets (baby guinea fowl) we raised last spring only one bachelor is left. He makes his rounds socializing with our other animals and squawking at anything unusual. Maybe we’ll find him a wife that won’t get eaten by a fox, now that the fences are built. Evensong’s rabbitry has grown this year to include meat rabbits, fiber rabbits (angoras, etc), and pet breeds. Now she is adding guinea pigs to her collection. As long as there is a market and she can sell the offspring, it is a worthwhile venture.
As far as our orchard is concerned…we now have one! It’s small but we hope to make it bigger. In September we were finally able to purchase trees at a great end-of-summer special…six trees for $100! After months of clearing the graveyard and hauling in horse manure to build up our sandy soil, we were ready to plant! I’ll post more details about our orchard later, but the trees are thriving in their new homes. So far we have seven citrus trees of various kinds, some papaya, banana, fig, Florida peach, avocado, mango, coconut palm, pomegranate, mulberry, and moringa. We can’t wait to eat their fruit. More patience needed!
In addition to the orchard we have the beginnings of our edible and medicinal landscaping in the front and back of our tiny house. While we were still building the deck it was difficult to put anything in the ground, but now things are slowly taking shape. So far there are a few blueberry bushes, various medicinal and culinary herbs, around fifty pineapple plants, elderberry, aloe, hibiscus, and more. We’re trying to follow some good advice about planting trees first, then perennials, and then seasonal crops for the most long-term benefits. We also laid a pallet of sod to replace the hay-covered sand under our clothesline and part of the back yard. Grass may not be viewed as a luxury until you live without any for nearly a year. It’s lovely!
Looking back over the year, we see things that didn’t get done that we hoped would, but the Lord has graciously provided for what we have and has helped us to do some things that weren’t part of the original plan. And we have been greatly enjoying our homestead. We have goals for completing several more projects before the end of 2012. I’ll try to keep you posted.