So again – winter is here, though not yet in a big way that I’m familiar with…. some snow, some cold – and oddly – some rain, as in pouring West Coast rain. Last night – freezing rain – took half an hour to chisel it off of the windshield of the truck this morning. Making an effort this year to blog more (though I probably said that last year…..) and trying to find the time to do so. Not an easy task now that I’m milking our happy cream producing Jersey, but then I’m used to the never ending changes around here – seems no matter the chore load I still manage to get it done and get to work and so far it hasn’t finished me off.
Trying to find that work/life balance isn’t simple for me – my job dictates that I ‘be there’ not just in body, but in mind, and it’s hard to walk in the door after work and leave the work at work. It’s also equally hard for me to walk in the door at work and leave the farm at home. Sigh. Don’t know how people do it – I find the whole issue exhausting. This year for the first time in nine years I skipped out on the work Christmas party. I am NOT a fan of them to start with – the trip into town, the late night when I have to get up at four, the same loud drunks, the same horrid service, the same lousy food. Sitting forever and trying to catch the waitresses attention so she can bring me yet another water – because I refuse to drink and drive. This year I was absolutely triumphant – I had an excellent excuse – “sorry, can’t make it this year – I’m milking – wouldn’t be able to get there until after eight o’clock”
I was bombarded with ‘come anyway’ ‘milk the cow early’ and so on. I held my ground like a trooper. The boss, not happy – got over it.
Now. As much fun as I have popping up with occasional updates of ‘what’s going on in my life’ – I’ve been trying to get back to the original thread on this blog – or as I’ve come to call it – the ‘never ending story’.
Pretty sure I left off on getting the well drilled – so I’m going to launch into the Guess what you can do when you suddenly have an endless supply of water!
First off – huge lifestyle change. On one hand, things got easier, on the other hand – it created more work. It wasn’t that we needed a bigger work load, but with water – comes all kinds of ideas – gardening, more livestock…..both of which means more work. The biggest change? Laundry. I could now do laundry without packing everything into town to the Laundromat, and with a functioning wringer washer at home, I could now do laundry whenever I wanted without having to check and see how much water was in the cistern, and figure out when the next delivery of water was going to show up.
For the average person, laundry probably seems like work – but until you’ve fought all your pairs of jeans and plaids and sheets and so on through a wringer head on a good old wringer washer, you can’t lay claim to laundry being work. I actually like the idea of a wringer washer – you fill it up, toss in the whites, let them swish around for as long as you think it will take for everything to come clean. Wring out, toss in rinse tub, wring out, hang up to dry. Toss in the next load – yes, toss in the next load. Same water. Really, how dirty are your whites on an average day?
The point is, today’s machines waste water. A lot of water. Wash, drain, rinse, drain, spin….. Four years of jamming quarters into the machines at the Laundromat taught me a couple of things…..one, those high efficiency machines smell. Two, those high efficiency machines never get my clothes as clean as a good old fashioned wringer washer.
On the flip side of the coin, there are a few things one needs to know about wringer washers. They’re no longer made new, so you are stuck with buying used if you can find them. If they’ve been stored outside, the pump will have frozen and no longer function – meaning you have to drop the hose into a bucket and drain the old fashioned way. If the pump has frozen, it will likely leak. If the tub has a tiny pinhole in it from a manufacturers defect – there is no recourse. If your hubby insists he can fix the pinhole in the tub by welding a quarter over it – it will leak much worse – necessitating you lugging the machine outside where it can leak all over the ground while you do laundry. Last, but not least – but most importantly, there is a reason all those homesteading women in the old black and white pictures have their long hair tied up nicely. It wasn’t to have their picture taken – they had likely just come from doing laundry in a wringer washer and knew that if you were in a particular hurry, fishing for socks with one hand and stuffing the wringer with the other hand, it was a guarantee you would inadvertently manage to stuff your long hair in the wringer at the same time. Yes – there is a quick release bar you can smack to release the wringers, but when you’re standing there – your own fool head stuck fast to the wringer head, flailing around like a landed fish while you try and come up with a good way to ‘unwind’ your hair – hair that has managed to roll itself around both rollers in both directions, with a sock, smacking the release bar does not solve the problem. It merely stops the wringer from wringing.
It took some doing, but I managed to save the majority of my hair 🙂
So in keeping with the ‘homesteading’ thing – I still use a wringer washer. They don’t last particularly long – they’re already dozens of years old, and of the three I’ve had, there’s not a common part among them. Currently I am using two at the same time – one washes and drains fine but has stripped gears in the wringer head, the other has a blown seal in the transmission that lets water in – in minutes you are standing in an ooze of water/oil – but it has a functioning wringer head. So – wash in one, wring with the other by swinging the head over the non -leaking unit, move the whole issue into the barn and fly at it. You see what I mean about extra work – actually, if I’m being honest – my stubbornness is what creates some of the extra work. Come to think of it, if I had a running creek on my property I’d probably be out there beating the clothes on a rock – just so I could thumb my nose at the wringer washer industry – not that there is such a thing. I am thankful, that Bruce just lets me be and does his best to go along. If I were out beating clothes on a rock in a creek he’d be out there building me a platform to kneel on or something.
Picture below? My ‘new’ old old washing machine – hand operated, no use of hydro, not a thing to go wrong with it that can’t easily be replaced with a quick trip to the hardware store. 😀
Aside from being able to freely do laundry with our endless supply of water – we were now able to think about gardening. Growing our own vegetables was a big big thing to me – but when you can only rely on rain water caught in barrels, and have to pay for delivery of the rest – there is no gardening to be done. It was about this time we were forced to revisit the issue of our heavy, clay based soil. Hardpan in the dry seasons, gloop in the rainy seasons, it isn’t designed to grow much other than dandelions, plantain, marginal grass and if you leave things be long enough, field grass for grazing. We sat down one day to discuss maybe putting in some salad greens for a start, and realized, rather unbelievably, we were short on plain old dirt. Ten acres and no suitable dirt for a garden. Finally, we built a small raised bed and set about robbing dirt from the composted manure piles, the chicken yard, and managed to fill the bed and plant spinach, lettuce, a few radishes. Pretty exciting times really, one step closer to self sufficiency. Ultimate goal? To ultimately grow ALL of our own vegetables and not have to buy ANY. Still not quite there – but definitely getting there. Can’t seem to grow decent tomatoes anywhere other than in the green house, and the green house being small, never enough tomatoes. Bigger greenhouse in order next year I think.
Now one would think, that with the water and sewer problem solved, we’d get back on fixing the house, putting the rest of the plumbing in, reattaching the North wall to the house, ripping up the smelly many layered floor. Nope. We were too busy trying to keep up with pig orders. We had people wanting weaner pigs to raise up, we had people wanting us to raise them slaughter weight hogs. We now had three breeding sows and a boar we had raised up from a different line – he was busy with the sows, the sows were busy with popping out piglets and we got even more busy shoveling pig manure every spare moment we had. Yes this ties into having water. Now that we had a well, we could have as many livestock as we wanted – and away we went.
One would think – we would grab a brain and learn to say NO. But still under the illusion that there was money to be made with this farming business, we kept on keeping on. Although we had backed up the meat bird bus and were now only raising about fifty or so a year, it didn’t occur to us to simply KEEP it that way. So now instead of processing chickens and shoveling chicken manure every weekend, we switched it up. There seemed never a moment we weren’t giving iron shots, clipping wolf teeth, mixing and grinding our own feed mix, deciding which outside pen could stand to be churned up by happy little snouts and so on. Again – about as far removed from ‘homesteading’ as one could get.
Now we are all about the ‘natural’ way of raising livestock – to a point. When the sows littered out – they were not in crates, rather they were in their own eight foot by ten foot pens. We cordoned off one corner of each pen with a piece of plywood left just high enough for piglets to creep under and hung a heat lamp over it. This eliminated the worry of the sow laying over on the little ones. We weaned by the weight of the sow, rather than the piglets – once she started looking on the thin side, they were moved along to an outside pen and within days, off to their new owners. Now technically a sow can easily litter out twice a year, we kept our breeding to once a year if we could deal with the ‘sow in heat’ rage. Some do better at it than others – we had picked up a Berkshire gilt to add to the mix – I came home one day to discover her loose in the chicken barn. This poor girl really suffered through her cycles – that day she managed to work the latch on her gate and open it and near as I could tell had spent the entire day terrorizing the layers, eating as many eggs as she could find, tipping over all the feed barrels, water barrels – you name it. The look of sheer anxiety she gave me when I opened the door to find her in the wrong place had me feeling bad enough for her I simply let her loose and walked her over to the boar pen and let her in. Wrong time of the year, another litter to over-winter. The best laid plans…..go out the window when it comes to livestock.
Now it wasn’t that we had too many pigs (well if you’re homesteading we definitely had too many), but it became clear that we weren’t really ‘set up’ for pigs. Sure we had individual comfy pens for the girls, plenty of space for the boar – but the barn is made out of wood. The floor of the barn is wood. Although I recalled my dad making the pig barn floor out of concrete so many years ago – I had thought it rather overkill. Nothing wrong with wood, I figured – just a matter of keeping it clean and lots of sawdust down. Not so. It seemed every moment the girls weren’t eating or sleeping or littering out, they were working at the floor with their busy little snouts. Pigs, it seems, can get themselves into all manner of predicaments without half trying – it became a weekly event – Bruce marching into the house at what I like to call ‘no o’clock in the morning’ to announce “we have a pig issue!” before rushing back out, expecting me to follow and help deal with it.
One such ‘pig issue’ I ran out to help with one morning – he had discovered one of the girls had worked an actual saucer sized hole in the floor and promptly lost half of her two week old litter to the lure of the smell of fresh dirt. Six little piglets happily rooting around under the barn, (there is no access to under the barn) and a very anxious momma pig splitting her time between grunting her concern down the hole, and chasing away the remaining six to keep them from following their litter mates. Now there is nothing more concerning to us than an alarmed momma sow who is missing half her litter – very unpredictable. We tried removing her from her pen but she would have none of it. Finally, hoping for the best, Bruce lay flat on the floor, stuck his arm down the hole and fished around, hoping to fetch up a piglet. No luck – they stayed well out of reach. Plan B. I fetched up a tall bunch of field grass, handed it over and down the hole it went – fishing for piglets so to speak. Sure enough, curiosity overcame the dirt fun and one by one as they came to check out the grass, he plucked them up and handed them over to momma. Late for work, we were – not the first time or the last – come to think of it, most all of our ‘late for work’ issues in those days, were a result of ‘pig issues’.
I don’t think it was a week later, I made my by now ‘routine’ trot out to the barn because the big old boar had slipped on the muddy walkway between his shed and his outside pen and both his rear legs had dropped straight through a crack between the floor of his shed and the wooden walkway. Splat. There he lay, belly flat, his legs stuck fast in the murky depths of whatever was under the wood – and no purchase for him to heave his considerable bulk out of his predicament. Bruce stood in front of him with a dozen eggs for a bribe, I pushed and heaved on his back end to absolutely no avail – trying to stay clean – after all, I was dressed for work. It was pointless. I finally gave it up, flattened myself onto the muck, cheek to cheek so to speak with the money making end of the old boar, smacking him smartly with one hand as I drove the other into the slop to try and find at least one foot. Turns out the foot I managed to find had slid forward under the wood far enough he was in effect pinning himself in place. I grabbed hold, worked it rearwards, and as soon as I had it lined up under his back end he started struggling in earnest. As long as I had his foot, he figured he had leverage – in less than five minutes – he was out. Late for work again……..boss didn’t even blink when I told him we had to get our 700 pound boar ‘unstuck’.
So. Water. As long as you have an endless supply of water – you can have as many livestock as your energy level and your customer base will allow. From one boar and one sow to five sows, a replacement boar, from two goats to four, to eight to sixteen, from twenty five layers to one hundred, from no turkeys to twenty five. Meat birds, ducks, geese – and that’s just the livestock.
I don’t say it often, but I often think it – ‘if you can’t be a good example, you might as well serve as a horrible warning’. I’d like to think, anybody who’s following this story and has an idea that they are going to go homesteading, farming – whatever, will at least take away from this – what NOT to do. 🙂