Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Learning Process Towards Sustainability

I am surprised how much of homesteading is in reality homeschooling.  Instead of 'schoolin' my children however, I am 'schoolin' me.

Having only moved about 30 miles from our last home, we were surprised to find that we get so much more rain and so much more snow.  Our friends and family less than 30 mins drive from us have sunny days and hence an earlier gardening season than we do.  So we are learning and researching gardening with a later frost date (it froze WAY after the frost date) and short growing seasons, aiming for year round crops or as close as possible.

We are blessed to have plantain, thistle, stinging nettle and clover.  At first it may not seem that these are blessings.  Weeds and thorns at first glance.   But as with most things, it is a matter of perspective.   Plantain is a great medicinal herb that can be used for poultices and rubbed on stings and scratches for relief.  Thistle flowers can be used to produce vegetable rennet for cheese-making.  Stinging Nettle can be used to make a MIRACLE TEA for allergy sufferers.  Clover provides ample nectar for our new bees which is helping them thrive in an otherwise late growing and WET season.

Our honey bees going in and out with plenty of pollen in their sacs.
We have a great quantity of hemlock trees (scrub brush really).  But we have been told this makes excellent firewood.  This just adds incentive to start clearing some of our back yard for more future animals.  The goats are more than happy to help with this endeavor.  As we cut down some trees, we move them in and they gladly eat the underbrush, grass and leaves.  Our buck especially leaves a lovely mowed area wherever we move him.

Our buck and his new friend. LOL
We also struggle trying to find truly organic, sustainable and grid free methods of raising our animals.  To get our poultry numbers up we have been using two incubators, the Little Giant and the classic Leahy incubators.  We continue our search for broody hens, and have concluded that we may have to purchase heritage eggs and raise our own.  While so many other chicken keepers find broody hens a nuisance, we greatly desire hens that will raise their own chicks, rear and protect them.  Our current reliance on electricity for future chickens is a crutch that we don't want to lean upon too heavily.

Our Rooster and some of his ladies looking for a treat.
At the same time we are also eager to relate that earlier losses of chicks by coccidiosys have been contained in a purely organic and sustainable way!  We discovered this crutch only by steering clear of any store bought feeds.  Little did we know that little chickens have undeveloped intestinal flora and without assistance great numbers succumb to internal parasites, such as coccidiosys.  After some research we began adding apple cider vinegar to all of their drinking water from hatching day all the way to adulthood.  Our last two batches of chicks have FLOURISHED!  And our adult hens are maintaining excellent health.  No more dreading our daily checks of the brooder box.  The daily casualties weighed heavily on us.  The only thing that makes it worthwhile to us is the knowledge that we have learned to do better by them.

A wild Quail that has moved into our coop.
We then noticed that our lovely goat does, one of which at least, was bred and expecting in Oct began losing weight.  We started running down the list, what could be the problem?  Was the buck keeping her from food or harassing her too much?  We separated them.  Was she not getting enough nutrition from the pasture grasses, clovers and leaves available to her?  We gave her more grain.  But as her weight loss continued and it was then obvious that the other doe was suffering weight loss also, we concluded that it must actually be an illness of some sort.  Having read about by goats quite extensively, I knew that it was most likely internal parasites, worms, that cattle are quite prone to, especially in our wet climate.  To put an end to this initial bout we made a vet appnt and confirmed that it was indeed worms and got the goats the appropriate medicine.  They began looking and acting much stronger and healthier within a week.  But this also began my new search, how to organically and sustainably treat worms in goats, sheep and maybe eventually cattle without resorting to medicine that 1) I may not be able to afford, 2) may simply not be available.  Surprising I am finding that by putting apple cider vinegar in their water I will be able to prevent this as well!  And if a parasite does get its hooks in, that I can treat them with garlic water!  I will be continuing my research in this area to ensure the health of my animals.  And for now, I know I can at least go to the local vet if I can't figure it out.

As if this was not enough to try and learn and take care of, we recently purchased some turkeys.  We were so excited that there were turkeys even available.  But upon getting them home we noticed immediately that something was not right.  Their feces were bright yellow and watery.  And upon butchering one (they are good size and would make a good meal already) we discovered the liver had yellow circles on it.  These are sure signs of 'blackhead' disease.  I began the search immediately for treatment.  Unfortunately, once blackhead gains ahold of your birds, it is sort of too late.  There is only one medical treatment, which is HIGHLY debated worldwide regarding its use in the food supply.  It is currently used in the US, with a long waiting period after treatment before the bird can be used.  I searched the local feed stores and spoke to the local vet for this medication.  It was not locally available and would require a much broader search on my part if I chose that route.  Fortunately, that delay made us continue our research which revealed that this drug actually contains arsenic, causing us to question the safety of introducing such a hazardous medication into a bird that we plan on eating.  We also would never want these kinds of chemicals/medications stocked around our home and children. So I continued my reading.  While there was no 'organic' treatment of a bird that already had blackhead, there was some clear and interesting organic and sustainable methods for preventing blackhead.  NEVER house your turkeys with your chickens.  While possibly annoying to consider having to build additional housing and fencing, this was obviously quite do-able.  And second and most importantly... you will laugh, I sure did.... you put apple cider vinegar in their water.  So our current plan will be to cull those who are ill, separate the turkeys immediately and make sure there is vinegar in ALL waterers.  After all this research, I may start adding vinegar to our water!



Here I found (off Pinterest, of course) an EASY way to make apple cider vinegar from scratch.  I will be starting ASAP.  I can't wait for apple season!


Homesteading.... It is a learning process.

This learning process is sometimes exciting and joyful.  When we get a good hatch of chickens, when our flock come running toward us whenever we step out the door, and when we can see the delight in our baby's eyes upon seeing a cow for the first time.  It is easy to praise the Lord for these blessings and to find reassurance on our path during these times.

But this learning process is sometimes painful and confusing.  When coyotes come in the middle of the night and decimate the duck flock, when our beloved cat gets hit by a car and we hear our little ones crying for her as we bury her, and when our beautiful baby goat is found dead, strangled by her collar.

I get choked up just typing that last sentence.  I know many may wish that I hadn't.  But it is the truth.  We were raised dependent on the system.  Our parents were raised dependent on the system.  Their parents were MADE dependent on the system. Trying to break free, or remake the wheel, is difficult.  We don't know what we are doing.  And most of the time, we have no clue where to look for the answers.  So we lean on the word of God, brush ourselves off and keep trying.

Ephesians 6:13
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

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