I have so appreciated the notes sent through the contact us page but there are two themes emerging that I would like to address. Conveniently, they relate to each other.
The first is: I think you're advocating for simpler, sustainble living but it's such hard work.
The answer is: yes, it is. I am so tired of blogs and webpages that promote this lifestyle as a "grow the flour to have your cake and eat it too" kind of lifestyle. It's just not that. What's happening because so many resources are making it look simple is people jump in with both feet and not looking, buy goats, and chickens, and land with the plan to live off it. That's great, if it works. More and more and more people I know are doing this rapid fire downshift in an upsizing way and it's actually hurting them. I think it's got some big implications for the planet as well, and I know it's got implications for the animals they're purchasing.
So yes, this lifestyle is hard work. You have to be up to feed goats whether or not you feel like, chickens also need to be fed, coops need to be cleaned, gardens weeded. It really doesn't stop. For some of us, it's like a vocation. It's not that we walk around the farm with our halo firmly intact, we bitch and moan and grumble but if you've drunk the Kool Aid (as it were) chores aren't 'Chores'.
I think the work aspect is the thing that people comment on the most - that and the cuteness of the goats. It's like somehow they think I don't know this is hard work. The hardness of it is also the thing I have started commenting on the most too. It's not that I want to discourage people because I think if we all adopted a bit of this lifestyle, we could manage a lot of change; it's just that I think the repercussions of people leaping in are too high.
I used to tell people about the jobs - like kidding/lambing season where you wake up and there are babies running around playing. I didn’t really get into the three sleepless weeks when I still had to parent and go to work and be able to make good decisions. I also didn’t tell them about the heart ache of losing babies, especially when you think maybe it was something that could have been prevented if you’d just…
I didn’t tell them about the times when your whole family is down with the pukey flu and you still have to drag your butt out of bed to feed and secure animals. Or the ‘OMG, how I am paying for this vet bill. Thank Dog I still have an ‘off the farm’ job’ moments. Or the nights when a cougar steals one of your goats because you forgot you no longer have a Pyr to keep them safe so you don’t lock them up… and you’re supposed to be travelling an hour and a half away to a family birthday supper. Your Reluctant Goatherd spends the day building building building and when you all get home, at midnight, he’s building, building, building some more. Or when you’re running late to get to work and fling open the door to the coop only to find that the reason your dog kept you up with barking (that you wished would stop but instead of letting him out to do his work, you kept telling him to shut up and went back to sleep because you were so tired) was because a bob cat managed to sneak into a hole in the coop and have a duck party. Now you have about a dozen dead and dying ducks, as well as a few chickens to deal with. And you were already running late. So, your teen aged son deals with the euthanasia while you finish sobbing/getting ready for work. And then your husband is home that night when it manages to be both wet and -20*C and is redoing the soffits (or facia, I never know) of the coop so there will be no more bobcat predation. On when you’ve just rung in New Years with friends and family and you spend the next evening trying to keep a dying goat alive. And then you spend the next day packaging up the body to send to the Provincial et because no one can figure out why he (or his brother) died but sister is fine.
It’s not that I want to talk you off this path, if I did, I wouldn’t bother with this blog. It’s just that while the Lamb Olympics and Gambolling Goats and Cute Chicks are such a a wonderful reality, so are these things. And these are the things that seem to catch people by surprise. That and the hauling of hay (and water, unless you’re super fancy which I am not) and so on and so on.
I think those of us who write about and advocate for this style of living are partly to blame. We’ve sheltered far too many of you from the flip side of it all because we were SO EXCITED and SO COMMITTED but it’s not the right way to go about it. When I read articles like this one I am seriously surprised. You were shocked that doing things you've previously outsourced would take time and effort? Really? There is a reason that the whole agrofood complex has been able to suck most of us in. Because growing and preserving your own food is damn hard work. But the pay offs are huge too and every time I think I’m going to throw in the towel (and my husband starts doing the happy dance -he tries not too but…) I just can’t.
That leads me to the second theme emerging from the “contact us” notes.
How do you do it? Where do I start? What do I do?
I do not recommend that you read a few books or blogs and go from an urban environment never having raised your own food in any real way to opt out and come to a rural area to "live off the land". Can it be done? I think it could but not by just anyone. I have had more phone calls and emails over the years from people who did just that and couldn't I take their goats/chickens/ducks/rabbits/cows/whatever because it turns out you need money to live (especially if you've made no changes to your lifestyle) and animals really get in the way of taking holidays and and and.
I don’t recommend starting off with chickens or goats or livestock guardian dogs or any of those other things that can seem like a super cute and awesome idea (and it is) until you’re stuck with the reality.
I do recommend that you give some thought to what is drawing you to the lifestyle and work back from there but start off small. Maybe start off making your own jam one year and maybe plant a very small garden with stuff you would like (like a salad pot with greens and cherry tomatoes). Make your own laundry soap (yep, instructions to follow), just start cooking a meal entirely from scratch one or two nights per week.
There are so many ways to get started and I hope you do it in a way that works for you. It’s no good to try to be sustainable in a way that’s not sustainable for you.