Homesteading: The Fence Part 2

So like 2 years ago...

We told you more on fencing was to come with this post. And it turns out we had more to learn. And do...

I sit here and write about it while Drew is in trenches getting it done. And the girls--the girls are master-fencers now too, and it couldn't have been done without them. Have we discussed child labor? Yep.

Anyway, the point is, we've done a little of nearly everything the fencing industry has to offer. Save for barbed. The first fence is working great, but it was by far the most expensive and difficult route. And, though it's still holding up fairly well--goats climb it, pigs dig under it and if trees fall on it, well...bad news.

We rely heavily on electric netting like this. We use it for poultry completely, which gives us the ability to move the chickens and turkeys all over the property, getting them on green grass as often as possible, while protecting them from predators and keeping them--for the most part--out of the garden area where they otherwise flock. (pun intended) We also use it for the goats to get them in areas that are either too difficult to fence, or that will will never put a permanent fence to, and honestly--for beginners who are on a new property, hands down, this is the best option. There is an investment for the fencing, and we use mainly solar chargers, but it's so versatile. Frustrating to cart through wooded and brambly terrain? YES. But, we have been able to clear a lot of underbrush that would have been impossible to clear this way as well. And--it has given us the ability to let our goats fertilize and graze in areas, like our infant-orchard, that we never intend to fence.

BUT. Our property isn't pasture. As we've mentioned it is wooded and hilly. We've had lots of timbering done, not clear cut, but the back part of our property--about 6 acres, is somewhat untouched because it's difficult to access; our 1 acre pond divides our property in 2. And we've been aching to get the goats back there to clean it up, and to have more to graze on. And, potentially, to introduce a beef cow at some point. So--currently this is underway, and we're using a fencing method we've used to expand our first paddock in which we used structured wire. It has proven faster, more versatile and less expensive, and we were worried about the goats staying in--but so far, they're happy to avoid electric which means they don't apply pressure to the fencing and posts as they do with the structured wire alternative.

By using t-posts and the trees already on the property to hold the wire, and after having a fella carve a path with an excavator so as to make the task doable through the thick woods and brambles, we are adding a little over an acre pasture on the back part of our property. With a little electric the 6 strand electric system will make for a lot more freedom for our growing herd/flock. And, it'll be nice to tap into some more of the property to meet their needs.
see that mess of wire NOT on the spinning jenny? Well, it's nice when equipment doesn't malfunction--and when it does, it's fair to cry...especially when you're 6.
Let me point out, we border all down the side a beautiful rolling pasture that belongs to our neighbor. It's lush, green, probably deplete of great diversity, but man would it be easy to fence...but, shh. The grass is always greener, right??
but when you're 6 and you can fence, well...i'd say she's ahead of the game.
Honestly, the biodiversity in our wooded area will hopefully establish quickly as a great place for fodder for multiple livestock species, and the goats will likely make quick and easy on cleaning it up so we can work to establish even more grasses and such. There's something very satisfying--no matter how difficult--about pioneering the land this way. And, we're anxious to eventually add a cow or two, silvo-pasturing is the wave of the future. ok, maybe a stretch, but still, it is going to be interesting to see how it plays out. #adventuresinpermaculture

What are your homesteading projects right now?


How to Homeschool on a Farm

From the non-expert.

People often tell me, or ask me, or mention to me something about homeschooling and I'm pretty nearly clueless. Sure, I've heard the terms and can sometimes even understand when the long-timers start talking their homeschool lingo. But, I usually laugh, shrug and say--'yeh, we're unschoolers'. In fact, i think we're a new category of un-unschoolers. 

Not everyone appreciates this style, and I get that. Many mothers, in particular, seem to struggle with the fear that their children aren't being a filled up with educational experiences as possible. I can promise that the less full we leave them the more they will blossom on their own. Let them be full with curiosity. It's hard not to want to explain every fact at every question, but my 6 year old doesn't need me to go into a unit study on weather when she asks 'Why does it thunder?' (But trust me, it's a difficult temptation to avoid.)

Educating my children has become more about me educating and molding myself into a curious being--someone willing to trust and experience and be willing to have wonder. It's blissful, but it isn't easy. But I would encourage you to try! 
Maybe we're 'wonder-schoolers'...I think I like that.

Why unschool?

--We truly believe that learning is a completely natural process and that in a literate home, it would be impossible to raise uneducated children.
--Life offers daily opportunity to teach and more importantly, demonstrate learning to our kids.
--Having tried structure, and knowing the learning styles of our children it is painfully apparent that a classroom type style of teaching/training or rigid curriculum is painful, stressful and unproductive. It's more important for our home to have peace. It would also be detrimental to their love of learning to continue to pursue more 'traditional' education styles.

How we do it:

--Our kids are not entirely free to do whatever they want all day. Our lives are structured with yearly, monthly, weekly and daily rhythms. Chores, farming, small bits of math and reading work are incorporated and required from our kids. However, the majority of their day is unofficially structured. Free time, rest time, play time, creative time, exploration time. While they are expected to uphold some responsibilities, even our 3 year old, we have merely tried to create an environment in which they can find and do and ask.
--We often encourage or come up with new games, projects, etc. and through living and working together as parents we are learning our children's gifts and struggles. We try to creatively meet their needs without stressing too much about the standards school systems would impose, and more on how confident they feel as learners.
--Too many structured activities are the opposite of what we're going for. We'd love to have our kids play soccer and little league and join swim team and take art classes and more. But--the point of having them home is not to run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We have to make a concerted effort not to jump in on too many co-ops and extracurriculars so we can be at home and unstressed. These boundaries are the hardest to maintain. Our children have chosen ballet and music lessons and we have to draw a line there. This has been important for us.

--Everyday is not perfect and being with kids and responsible for their training ALWAYS comes with frustrations and head-butting. But, we also have plenty of time to overcome these difficulties together, and knowing that our goals are specifically to offer our kids freedom and free-thinking helps us maintain balance. Most days.

--pretty much John Holt has already said everything important, read some of his inspirational books!

What do you think, are you Wonder-Schoolers, too?


Apple Trees and Goats

We always bury our goats under the apple trees. The tree gets nourished by the goat body. The grass always grows really well there. Then the goats get to eat the apples and the grass. Then the goats make more goats. On and on it goes. This year we have had to bury two so far. Its part of farm life. Really its part of all life. Its a part that not everyone gets to participate in as much as they should. Its the part that makes farmers such great people. If people knew how fragile and precious life is maybe they would respect it more. Its not until you see death that you really appreciate life. This week i had the privilege of standing out side in the crisp morning air with my three daughters as we cried about a baby goat that had died over the night. No matter how many times it happens it always pulls on your heart some. Being the dad and the main farm manager its hard to not feel responsible for all the bad that happens but some times its out of my hands. I dont always have the answers and when it comes to baby goats dieing I really do not have any answers. If it was up to me they would all live.

We also had the same mom goat get really sick and we almost lost her. Luckily we were able to bring her back. She seems to be doing really well now. For the farmers out there. I used a drench of vit C, and probios. Then I gave her b12 injections every 8 hours. Now she is on free choice seaweed meal, high quality grain, and hay. She went from laying on her back and foaming at the mouth to standing and grazing in about 24 hours.

We have also had lots of new life on the farm. We have had three new babies born this week. It seemed like every time we came home a new baby had been born. This is such an exciting time of year. Plus soon we will have fresh goats milk.
Eliza Feeding comforting the moma

This little girl is just hours old.

Bottle feeding the babies while the moma gets better.

 These little guys are just hours old.


What's a working farm?

It has come to our attention that we may never actually have a farm that is our major source of income. It's a bit of a drag really, and based on our experience has more to do with sustainability than anything else. Are there people making money? Absolutely. But, from what we've seen it's people who don't have mortgages on their homes and have money to invest in infrastructure and equipment. We don't. Or, at least we didn't. And we spent years figuring out how to even get our hands on some land.
Our hope is not to discourage anyone from striving for their farm dream--but we do hope to encourage MORE people to reach for their homestead dreams, because ultimately we're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable. Go ahead, read that line again. But, homestead dreams are different than farm dreams...

What's that? You think if you had free-range chickens fed the finest of non-gmo, organic, local grains you could charge a fair price and get it? There's a demand for that? Well, we've done the math. And, if you're doing good, breaking even seems fair. After all, the feed is paid for when selling those egg-cess eggs, but the person willing to pay $8/dozen is hard to come by. But, that is the the market value of a dozen of our eggs. Probably more if we included a fair labor wage. We're thrilled to feed our children eggs worth upwards of $8/dozen because they're worth it. But, not so many parents think so simply because they can't afford it.
Again, take heart--do not be dissuaded. We are all in this boat together. The value of food in modern society is tragically lost. Don't even get me started on what we would have to charge per pound of chicken meat to earn anything remotely resembling a profit. We're thrilled to give our children the experience of being sustainable--that's the real payday. But we've had to admit, there would be no way to sell to markets. Direct to consumer sales are the only small possibility. But alas, then there's marketing fees and more time investment. Our chicken is good. We've ironed out the kinks and it's mighty tasty and something to be proud of, and we're fortunate to have a freezer full. For ourselves. On occasion we sell--heck, maybe one day we will owe zero dollars and have the infrastructure and healthy soil and fields it requires to do everything from hatch to feed these birds on our own...but still, that's a lot of investment. Still the goal, to have that for future generations. But, for our generation we are only beginning and need to be realistic.

You'll find books and farmers out there saying it's totally doable. But, they're usually selling a book. Who's going to buy the book we write about the impossibility? Books fund farms. So...maybe we should be less dreary and more optimistic to get those of you like us to buy it. It's ok not to believe in that possibility. It's ok to realize that things will have to be seriously altered, head-over-heels style, to make people realize the value of their food. And even then--even if education weren't the only hang-up, it'd still have to be a 'labor of love' because there's no retirement plan for the farm-income.
At the most recent Sustainable Agriculture Conference in SC we heard from Mark Shepard. It was great, inspirational, thought-provoking. But, he said some things that were very meaningful to me that many seemed to overlook. Mark Shepard has some great books, including Restoration Agriculture. It's an amazing read, and his property in the mid-west is like an Eden in a desert of corn. He has restored balance and harmony on his acreage in a way that is far beyond just sustainable. For years he will be set in produce and bountiful pasture for his livestock and more importantly, his children. It's brilliant and as the title implies, revolutionary. But, he didn't talk about how much money he makes from his farm. In fact, that was sort of brushed aside. What he did mention was as sustainable agriculture revolutionaries we need to get in on the ground floor of something. For him, as one of the founding members of Organic Valley, a dairy co-operative, he has an income to aid in the building of his farm. A reliable source of profit. He isn't just a farmer, he's a business man and the author of popular permaculture literature. He earns residuals.

What was our take away from that? Hope! Being in the midst of starting a farmstead, doing the math on installing fences and raising barns, let alone acquiring decent livestock and feeding them, you quickly become overwhelmed. (and we've done this all without heavy equipment so far, don't get us started on that investment!) Not to mention having bought a foreclosure or some cheap piece of land to get you started because you didn't inherit the back 20, or a trust fund...Well, that can all be disheartening, overwhelming and even dangerously expensive. A debtor's hay day. It wouldn't take a great salesman to talk a person like this into the overhead of a tractor at x.y% apr. Debt and farming are like synonyms this day and age. But--that's not sustainable either, and it's certainly not good news for our kids.

So, where did I find hope in this speech from Mr. Shepard? 2 places actually.
1. 'Get in on the ground floor of something.' 
Thank goodness! We have done that and are passionate about that work, and the movement it is creating. (Great news, there's plenty more room for others to get in on this, and we'd love to have you. Talk to us about what that looks like!) But, the key is: find something that you're similarly passionate about and use it to fund your farm dream. It's totally possible. Just don't quit- be willing to sacrifice your immediate comfort for the long term satisfaction.

2. We're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable.
Think about that for a while. What if you didn't have to DO everything, because your neighbor did the eggs and you do the milk and across the street they raise goats and you garden-swap weekly. And you share equipment costs and trade canned goods...What if THAT'S the goal we we were all working toward.What if you could go on vacation because you had a trustworthy network of folks who could pick up the slack for a week? The ultimate co-op. And really, it's the only sustainable model there is. Sure, it's a stretch based on modern culture, but it doesn't have to be. This is how it WAS and is in some places. Even in the city this is the perfect solution. Heck, one guy could be the chiropractor, or the midwife...it all sounds heavenly to me. If there's one thing we've learned is this earth of ours is bountiful, plentiful. Everybody can thrive.
creating revenue on a homestead
At the rate our dreams are growing I don't doubt we will see this movement in our lifetime. We don't expect our grandchildren to know much different. So, first: fund your dream with something you love. Let your farm be your why in whatever it is that will get you there, but release the stress of thinking sustainable means profits, it doesn't. It means enough for everyone. We're all more sustainable if we're all more sustainable. Find your profits somewhere else. That is all.