Well here is the downside to collecting more and more animals and doing more and more self-sustaining stuff; it does not sustain itself! The “self” of self-sustaining is really referring to the person caring for the land/animal/project etc not the item itself. About the only remotely self-sustaining animals we have in our menagerie are the bees, and they are not really self-sustaining they are more like temporarily-able-to-be-left-to-their-own-devices-sustaining.
The least self-sustaining, and most high-maintenance, of our brood are the chickens, they must be cared for (at the very minimum) at least twice a day. This twice a day bare bones minimum maintenance includes letting them out around dawn with feeding and watering and then a return trip at dusk to close up the coop, this is really stretching it. In all actuality their water should be changed several times a day (especially in this heat), and the nest box should be checked with regularity.
Like any other social creature they enjoy your time and attention like to be talked to and especially want to befriend anyone bearing a treat so only interacting with them twice a day also leaves them unhappy and unsettled. I will tell you from firsthand experience; grouchy chickens can and will withhold/impede egg production. Happy chickens are much better layers and pets, however, they can be taken care of with the bare bones twice a day routine. If you add to the bees and chickens one dog and five inside cats you can see how going out of town becomes more and more challenging for our family the “greener” we become.
This past weekend my best friend got married in Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg is about a six hour drive from here and we made plans well in advance. Originally we had intended to take Louie with us but our pet friendly cabin fell through and we ended up renting a condo. So Louie got farmed out to Fred’s mom. That left the care of the cats and chickens to my mom. The bees would be fine on their own for a few days. Luckily for us we live within a five mile radius of lots of friends and family and luckily for us my mom still enjoys the chickens as a novelty.
Our “going green” is quite the amusing joke of our family. Everyone wants to know what we are cooking up next so they can point and laugh and talk about us doing things the hard way and at this point everyone still finds it charming enough to indulge us our quirkiness by, for example, tending our chickens while we are gone for several days. So twice a day my mom schlepped up here to have her toes pecked and listen to a list of clucking complaints, for her trouble she was treated to one single egg by Mama who apparently was so put out with us for leaving she went on a laying strike.
This is really the only true “downside” we have reached in our push towards green. In our drive to wrest back our lives from corporate management we have taken on more work, more responsibility and more dependents in the form of animal life. Generally, this is a good thing. It is rewarding to be closer to our food source, to have a product for our labor at the end of each day, to accomplish things, to make things and to realize that everything does not stem from the ground clean and shrink wrapped in plastic but specifically it binds you to the land with an invisible and tenacious umbilical cord of responsibility. That nurturing connection goes both directions and can only be stretched so thin and cannot be completely broken lest one party starve from a lack of attention or nutrition.
Farming, which is what we quaintly call our endeavors, is not easily abandoned and is not something from which you get two weeks paid vacation a year. To leave the land and the animals, and expect them to carry on in our absence, careful preparation must be made. I think this is the only real draw back Fred and I have stumbled on so far. We never did so much “vacation” in the traditional sense, a week spent somewhere eating in restaurants we could eat in at home and sleeping in motels with skeevy beds and noisy ice machines, as we spontaneously camp. We love to just pick a state park or some out of the way campground or hike part of the Greenbrier trail or whatever. That is a little more difficult now. We can no longer just throw down enough cat food for several days grab Louie and take off.
Next year as we grow our endeavors and hopefully get a nanny goat (which will require twice a day milking all year long) I am not sure how we will manage to leave the homestead at all. While my mom finds the chickens amusing and enjoys watching them peck around for treats and what not, I do not think she would be equally charmed by an ill-tempered nanny goat more likely to head butt someone while they were not looking than to sweetly peck raisins from your palm. Who knows, she might surprise me and really enjoy milking a goat, but I doubt it.
So this time next year if Fred and I want to vacation anywhere we maybe in the market for a farm sitter. Is there such a thing? Maybe I have just stumbled upon a new career. If you live within a thirty mile radius of me and are also homesteading maybe we could work up a trade system? You tend my farm for a week or two a year while my family takes a break and we will do the same for you. This could work.
In all reality I think this is what we really need anyway and that is one of the goals of writing this blog; to reach out to other like-minded people and to create a support system. I know there are other people out there doing the same things we are doing, people who are fed up with having mass-produced everything shoved down their throats twenty-four hours a day. Some of these people are doing it on a larger scale than us, some are taking even smaller baby steps but I think, no matter where you are on this journey we all need each other. We need to support like minded people because, in reality, that is the only way we are ever going to effect change on a larger scale. Banded together we can bring the farm subsidies back where they belong and make a difference not only in our corner but in our country and ultimately in the world.
Ok, I will fold up my soap-box, it snuck out on me for a second. But I am serious about the trade everyone needs a break from routine sometimes. So think about it.
Thank you for reading,