Do over part 2: Homesteading harder


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There are only so many hours in a day.  I have to tell myself that – often.  This year in particular I’ve finally tapped out on available hours, and discovered that there is a price to pay for running out of those hours.

The above pic: Daisy Duke – contented cow and supplier of great quantities of butterfat laden milk. (sorry about the blurry – I’m not often near her with my phone and had to crop the pic). Do we actually need a house cow?  No.  And yes. It’s not that Daisy is a lot of work – she takes pretty good care of herself – it’s that everything she provides, creates a lot of work, and requires a lot of planning.  Last year – come March, when I threw the towel in on milking and sent her down the road to be bred (literally down the road), I gave little thought to when the calf would be born, other than figuring on a New Years baby.  Good enough.  Now if I were raising beef cattle for market – that’s a great time to drop a calf on the ground – it’ll be about as big as it can get when it goes off to market.  But we’re not raising beef cattle – I did not think about the fact that miss Daily Duke would be churning out gallons of gallons of milk – totally at the wrong time of year for me.  I do not run my cook stove in the summer.  No cook stove – no way to make any cheese other than what I can make without heat.  Of course I got many batches of cream cheese and a few pressed cheeses made while we were still sharing her with the calf- but once that calf was weaned off (to a measured amount served up in a bucket), well – my entire life became about milk and what to do with it when you are not running the cook stove.  Creative thinking 101: we had pigs.  Now I don’t like feeding pigs straight milk – they pee a lot.  So much so – I don’t think they’re getting much out of the milk.  It dawned on me that I could make Creole Cream cheese without heat – (milk no colder than 70, no warmer than 80) – so off and running I was.  So yes – two pigs were raised on wheat, refuse from the garden, and two gallons of Creole Cream cheese a day – they were slaughter weight a month early – win win.  Problem? The piggies went to market.  Plan B.  Feed it to the chickens.  Problem? The chickens can only eat so much clabber a day. Now all this effort does not use up all of the milk – far from it – even after I skimmed and made butter, there wasn’t a day I did not open my fridge and stare at a minimum of six gallons of milk. I’m not kidding when I say there were days when Bruce came in the back door with that pail of milk and I wanted to promptly open up the side door and fling it into the yard.  There seemed not a moment of my ‘home’ time where I was not skimming, cheesing, churning, washing washing washing jars.  Solution?  This year – we trailered miss Daisy Duke to the farm where we bought her, in September – where she will continue to be milked, and certainly get bred, and we will have a June calf – and when we wean that calf, my cook stove will be up and running.

This past April – Daisy’s first calf went to the butcher as a two year old.  Sooooo worth it.  Roast on the left? From the calf.  Roast on the right? From the grocery store: Eighty some odd dollars.  Win, win and win again – there’s not an ounce of that beef that isn’t top quality, best tasting beef I’ve had in years.  Raising a beef/dairy cross gives us enough ‘beef’ to the meat, and less weight – as in we don’t need a thousand pounds of beef in the freezer.  The calf dressed out at seven hundred – I’m good with that.  Raising Holstein steers – which we did two years running – not even close for comparison.

Never a dull moment when you have a house cow: milk/cream/cheese/butter and one cooler day where I could light the stove in the house and put some of the milk to use.

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Firewood.  Getting firewood is bloody hard work.  Before you set foot in the bush you need: a permit (free, but must have one), fire fighting equipment, chainsaws, water, mixed fuel for the saws, a wedge, an axe, and if you want to bring a decent amount down from the mountain – a decent trailer to haul it with.  There are ‘rules’ about getting your own wood: you must only cut windfall, or standing dead, or beetle kill.  The tree must not be more than one foot in diameter at the base, you must take all of it up to the four inch diameter at the top.  You must spread the debris around and not leave a fire hazard, you must cut it within a foot of the ground.  You may not take any trees that look as though they are in use by wildlife (bear scratched/moose rubbed etc.) You must not cut in a logging block/private land. All the wood you transport must be cut into lengths no longer than 24 inches. (Yeah, we thumbed our nose at that last one).  Finding trees that aren’t owned/blocked out/ marked by logging companies around here – that’s a project.  One would think there’d be maps of this nonsense – but none that I’ve managed to find. Regardless – some friends about an hour away kindly pointed out that behind their sixty acres was a previously logged, replanted, acres of crown land we could harvest from.  The pic above is the road on the way up the hill.

Now no matter how much one would wish, the trees we can take simply aren’t beside the road all handy to take.  You drive along, eyeballing ‘clumps’ of promising looking dead trees or blow down that’s hopefully not too far from the road, park, go scout it out – making sure to watch for irritated bears (lots of bear sign up there), decide whether or not the standing dead are not leaning the wrong way because of prevailing winds (therefore impossible to fall without snagging, as you can’t ‘make’ it fall where you want), head back to the truck, grab saws and get at it.

I can’t lift and carry a ten foot log that weighs somewhere between two and four hundred pounds – anywhere.  So I flip them, as does Bruce.  Pick up, get to the knees, the waist, the chest – walk under it and stand it up and flip.  Kind of like the caber toss – but on the ground.  It’s work.  Lift, walk, flip – lift, walk, flip, trying desperately to not flip it onto any replanted young trees and smash them, until you zig zag lift, walk, flip your way back to the truck where it can be loaded onto the trailer.  One trailer load is just under two cords of wood.  One trailer load takes about six hours of grunt to fill. It’s hot up there, incredibly humid – we are drowned rats, sweating, sawing logs, heaving logs until we can’t realistically add more weight than the trailer is designed to carry. We get the trailer loaded, we get back home – we unload trailer and saw logs into the size we need for our stoves, we stack it.  Actually, Bruce cuts and stacks on his day off.  Next free (?) day – back we go again.

Am I happy about getting our own wood this year?  Yes.  It has always bothered me that as ‘self sufficient (haha) homesteading’ type people, we bought our wood.  And no – because every day we’re up getting wood is a day something else is not getting done.  Back to the ‘only so many hours in a day’ thing.  This year – I determined I would suck it up and use the BIG SAW as I like to call it.  I’m not afraid of the saw – but it’s damn big.  Twelve years ago when I bought it – I had a go at starting it (can’t unless I stand on it and pull the cord), had a go at cutting through a log – and promptly handed it back to Bruce who has been using a chain saw his whole life. This year, I got fed up with caber tossing longs and decided I’d rather use the BIG SAW, skip chain and all. It gave me a break from the grunt, I still have all my limbs 😀

 

Getting hay – in my perfect world (eye roll) we would have our own hay, as it is, we generally drive down the road or so every two weeks and pick up what we need for the next two weeks.  This year was one of those ‘rain at the wrong time sun at the wrong time’ years – we drove by our regular go-to hay fields that belong to farmers we regularly buy hay from and watched in dismay as the daisies and buttercups flourished while the grass did not. We wondered how we could possibly feed that to our house cow, or our horses – we could not. As it turned out – not everybody had a bad hay field.  Neighbour to the North has a son who has a small field on the other side of the highway – premium hay.  Baled into squares for the cow. Now neighbour to the North is seventy some odd years old and works twenty out of every twenty four hours and is an absolute machine.  Anybody who can’t keep up to him, regardless of the reason – is a waste of skin.  He marched over one day and said something like “There’s four hundred squares in that field you can buy – same price as last year – come get it – it’s gonna rain by Saturday!”  And he fully expected that despite the fact I’d worked all day, despite the fact that Bruce had spent the entire day cutting, splitting and stacking firewood and doing his regular chores during one of the hottest days of the year, despite the fact neither of us had eaten dinner – we would round up a trailer and come and get the hay.

We did.  Neighbour to the North helped load it – lecturing all the while how he had the stamina of ten men while we did not – how he used to work a day job AND farm and still had the stamina of ten men and we did not….. Wow.  I bit my tongue and loaded hay – managed to totter down the road and back across the highway with 150 bales on that trailer – and a promise we would be back the following night for more hay.  I spent my entire day off humping that hay into the feed room – making hay stair cases so I could get the stuff all the way to the 12 foot rafters – five bales at a time – rest in the shade.  Four bales at a time – rest in the shade.  By the end of my day I was sitting there telling myself ‘two more bales then rest’.  Then it was ‘one bale at a time and rest’.  I walked away from the project with fifteen bales still on that trailer and likely some good old fashioned heat stroke.  When Bruce got home, we headed back over and loaded more hay. Listened to more lecturing.  I suppose if I had a desk job, I would have welcomed the exercise – but I don’t have a desk job and neither does Bruce.  It was a tough haul – we did not have all those bales over here and stacked until Sunday.

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Despite all but ignoring the gardens this year (so much to do, so little time), they did well – that is to say, what didn’t outright drown in the glut of rain at the wrong time of year, did well. We’ll be okay til next year. Didn’t get hardly any pictures this year… but dry beans and carrots were banner, as was the broccoli, peas, potatoes, beets.

 

 

Chickens got processed, beef stock made, fat rendered, horses got attention – but as always it seems, not enough use – ‘hours in a day’ again.

 

 

I’ll finish off this post with what I did NOT do this year.  I did not make soap (oh I really miss my home made bar soap).  I did not get to replenishing my home made laundry soap – two weeks ago I stood in the store, more than slightly dumbfounded at the price of laundry detergent – and  baffled at the fact that liquid laundry soap seems to be the norm.  I bought some – a small bottle that professed on the label that it was good for 51 loads.  I stood in the laundromat (our last wringer washer died to death and I need a new wringer for my ‘swish it yourself’ tub) and tried to decipher the instructions for just how much of this stuff I was supposed to use per load.  Ultimately I did the guess and pour – managed to burn up half a jug on five loads.  No….the laundry did not look any cleaner or smell any cleaner.

I did not can a single tomato, or make a single jar of tomato sauce – this will come back to haunt me this winter, I’m quite certain. I did not manage to pick a single wild twin berry, or saskatoon – thinking oh well – there’s rose hips to come.  There are zero rose hips this year – I’m assuming the ‘rain at the wrong time’ knocked all the flowers off at exactly the right time to not produce fruit.

Still, the year is not done yet. The cook stove is now running most every day, I’ll still manage to get the kidney fat from the pigs rendered for pastry lard, more beef bone stock in jars, soap made again, more cheese once the cow is back from her ‘date’, possibly get on my horse for a quick ride (what? you have a horse?), and if I happen to catch a good deal on tomatoes, knowing me….I’ll buy up a hundred pounds of them (so long as they’re at least from this province) and can them up anyway.

That – is the price you pay for not enough hours – for taking on more things than you normally take on.  For every one thing you add to your work load, once you reach the tipping point – one other thing falls off the end of the list.  This year I found that tipping point – next year I need to find the right balance – the one between ‘too much and not enough’ that I think all farmers/homesteaders strive to find. Ultimately – more land (as in my previous post) is not necessarily the answer – I mean it’s all fine to grow your own hay, but now you’re adding cutting and baling it to the equation, getting wood is still getting wood whether you get it off your own property or not….. in the end, it’s about balance.  Finding the right balance is definitely something I have to work on.

Until next time….. 🙂

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About valbjerke

Farmer, Transmission Rebuilder, Self Sufficiency Nut. Like the old school way of doing things. "Fast is fine - accuracy is final" (quote by some way back famous gun-slinger - likely just before he got shot dead)
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15 Responses to Do over part 2: Homesteading harder

  1. Bill says:

    Your posts cause me to 1) feel tired just from reading them, and 2) realize what a weenie of a homesteader I am. I admire what y’all are doing, but I definitely understand and agree with the need to find the right balance.

    When we first moved back here I wanted to do everything that can be done on a farm. I wanted to be as self-reliant as we could possibly be. But before we ever got around to creating a way to generate our own electricity, and make our own biofuel I quit my job, thus ending my funding source. So those things never happened. But earlier in the process I went in search of a dairy cow. I found a pretty and gentle hand-milked Guernsey on a nearby farm. At the last minute I changed my mind about buying her. I think if I had come home with a milk cow and handed those chores off to my city-girl wife before heading back to the airport to go back to work I might have ended up in divorce court. And ultimately I realized that we use so little milk here that having a cow just wasn’t necessary. I did buy hay equipment though and we cut and baled our own hay for about ten years. Last year I sold it. I realized that for what I could get for the equipment I could buy all the hay we needed for the foreseeable future, without having to carry the expense of maintaining the equipment. I have next to no mechanical skills, which means when something breaks down I usually have to hire someone to fix it. As you know that doesn’t work on a homesteading budget.

    I don’t know what the right balance is either. This year at the height of summer I was so underwater that it wasn’t always fun. I think next year we’re going to cut way back on the number of gardens and try to grow more intensively. We didn’t raise any pigs this year either. We’ve had processing issues too and I’m not sure it’s worth the stress and potential liability, especially in light of how little we actually make in profit per pig. Next year we may go back to just raising two for ourselves. We’ll see.

    I greatly appreciated your posts. It’s very helpful for those of us who are trying to walk this path to hear non-sugarcoated real-life stories from other homesteaders. Thanks for taking the time. I’m rooting for you as you try to figure out the best way going forward and I hope you’ll share your ultimate conclusions with us when you figure it out!

    • valbjerke says:

      Thank you for taking the time to plow through the posts 😊 I love the feedback.
      Of all the blogs I follow, yours included – what strikes me the most, is how much work we all put into our farms/homesteads – be they huge acreages or small plots. I’m certain there are many who work circles around me. This coming year is going to be about balance certainly – though I expect my idea of balance will differ from others – and yes, I’ll be trying to keep everybody in the loop.

  2. Pat says:

    You do realize you’ll have to write a book about all this when you can no longer manage to cut and flip wood, stack hay, make cheese, bake bread, garden vegetables, can said vegetables, etc…etc..etc. 🙂
    Oh by the way, saw a wringer washer for auction here in Ontario a few weeks back and thought of you. Looked in prime condition. Wish I could have found a way to get it to ya.

    • valbjerke says:

      Ah yes – a book – one day…….
      I see the odd wringer washer around here too – biggest issue, people store them outside. The pump freezes – and therefore they leak. 😊

  3. It must be something about this year, I feel about the same. Your post makes me wonder about getting a milk cow

    • valbjerke says:

      Well on the upside – you’ve a large family – so if you all drink lots of milk, like butter and consume cheese….
      Still, it does take some dedication. My husband figures (when milking twice a day) that he’s committed to about an hour and a half a day. On my end – on a day I have to go to work – probably a solid hour a day, on a day off or the weekend, I have to play catch up – and depending on what type of cheese I’m making, a few hours to an entire day. As we are committed to producing all of the food we consume – I’m willing to give the time and effort.
      I’d also like to point out – that there are no ‘vacations’ we can take together when the cow is milking – nobody is interested in taking over the chore. If you have somebody who is willing to do that for you when you’re traveling, then you’ve an advantage there.

      • I do have several people who have volunteered to help out if we go away. I have also thought about calf sharing. I’d like to produce more of our food, and this would definitely help towards that.

      • valbjerke says:

        Having milking help is awesome – takes the pressure off of you.
        We share the milk with the calf for about five months – at which time I find the calf gets pretty rough on the udder. At that point the calf get weaned off – though we continue to give it milk in a bucket for another two or three months – at some point (in our experience) the calf just decided it doesn’t want any more milk.
        There are many ways to work this, I know people who go straight to bucket feeding, I know a fellow who keeps all the milk from his Jersey and has Holsteins for feeding the calves…..you will figure out what works for you.
        However you do it – at some point, all the milk is yours – and then things get hectic.
        We raise a calf for two years before we put it in the freezer – (we cross our Jersey with a beef breed for more meat) and the savings realized compared to buying beef from the store is astronomical. 😊

  4. I am stunned at how similar our days are – and when you write it all down in own foul swoop like that is sounds dreadful – I do know that there is love in every word. Not that sweet sickly love but that love of tired shoulders and hair stuck in a hat all day and kicking your boots right off at the end of the day. I am just in for a cup of coffee and then off I go to feed the boar and check the fences down the back. Don’t feel bad about the tomatoes – that happened to me last year – I moaned a bit having to buy them in a can from the supermarket but we survived – you simply cannot do it all.. And you do so much! c

  5. Great blog! Thanks for visiting mine and following. Looking forward to your next post!

  6. DM says:

    I just finished reading these last two posts…yep, I found myself nodding my head multiple times. 😉 I refuse to sell our eggs for less that what I have in them..and I refuse to put myself in a situation where I feel I need to beg someone to buy my surplus. we have 4 hens that more than take care of our needs currently. People can raise their own chickens if they think it’s so easy. I remember when I was growing up (we used to milk) and reading about the farmers dumping their milk rather than sell it for a loss. at the time I didn’t quite get it…now I do. We live in a zone 5 growing area, and I think I have it rough 🙂 I loved the detailed/ raw unfiltered critique of your choices…the good , the bad and the ugly. Back in 2006 we thought we wanted to open a B and b in our 2nd story farm house where we live…long story short, we ended up putting in 3 different tubs before I got it right… a Jacuzzi first which I thought we had to have..,..wrong…no shower and eventually removed it…then bought a big normal tub….problem was, the curb was to high for older people to step over….grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr….jerked that out,a and finally put in a basic simple tub/ shower..we did not have money to burn..I looked @ it like tuition…and finally, I’ve tried to take a bath, by heating up water on the stove..I quickly got over the romantic notion of that.. 🙂 i love hot running water…(and a freeze and frig) Our forefathers had it much harder than most of us realize…I know you get it….Later- DM

  7. I just found your blog, and I love it!!!! We are easing into homesteading ourselves, and raising 2 bottle baby calves this year, a Jersey bull (soon to be castrated) and Jersey/Angus heifer. It’s been an adventure, but I’m genuinely happy in our home for the first time in years, so there’s that.

  8. Sorry, here’s another tack on… Holy smoke, I just noticed – unlike your girl, Uncle’s herd was polled…

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