Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Till the Cows Come Home

Sometimes I feel that's how long it's taking to get our piece of land! But plug away we shall. In the meantime, it feels GOOD to be able to have nearly unlimited resources available via the internet and through books to see how others have chosen to attempt similar things. One of the aspects I most enjoy when reading other blogs or articles is seeing how different choices are working out for other homestead-mentality folks. I'm learning so much...not only about skills, but about time management, the particular financial challenges, the element of the Unexpected, animal husbandry ups and down, health impacts, which methods (gardening, cooking, preserving, animal care, land management, nutrition, etc) are working best and which are not in different situations.

Appreciation for the Individuality Inherent in this Lifestyle
I love seeing how different families are raising their children, dealing with important political issues, having fun, dealing with hard times, working through relationship challenges, renovating their homes, fixing things, creating things, and choosing to do things they've always wanted to try at least once. I love people who think outside the box and make choices based more upon what works for their own situation and happiness than what society seems to accept as the status quo career track. I love seeing people happy preserving heritage ways of doing things, and even at times choosing to do things the "old" way rather than simply being driven by timeframes and convenience. I love seeing an attitude of respect for others, for animal care, for food origins, and for stewardship of this earth and its resources. I love seeing how others do things, solve problems, and oftentimes express faith.

From these things, I am inspired and encouraged, and feel renewal.

Up to this point, this preparation season, namely getting our household "in order" in many ways, particularly financially, has not been an idealist's paradise...it's been work. That's very much how I believe it will continue to be, even when we're finally able to get that land and raise those animals, plants, and trees. The part I'm looking forward to is that it is work that we CHOOSE...in fact I believe we'll be working harder in many areas then than we are right now. Much like what occurs when raising children, I anticipate there being tradeoffs, namely of "freedoms" of schedule and added responsibility, and the unanticipated emergencies that arise. But, like raising children, I also anticipate enjoying the journey and the growth, and hanging tough with the setbacks.

Hmmm...not sure how I got off on that thought trail... :) This WAS all leading somewhere.

Narrowing our Focus
At this point, not having had the hands-on opportunity to work with a variety of livestock yet, we've been trying to narrow our focus at least somewhat to what we THINK we want and would work best for us, since that is a factor in choosing a property. If we want rotation pasture-grazing grass-based livestock, best to have pasture and grass! :) Some ideas we have are fuzzy, and some are more specific. It's interesting comparing this year's "plan" to that of a year ago, and seeing what has changed and what hasn't. Sometimes, seeing through the eyes of bloggers already trying and dealing with particulars we thought we'd want to try affected how we see that subject now.

I started out wanting to take on many different sorts of animals, most of which I've never had in the past, ever. I didn't have much idea of which could be kept together, the behaviors and requirements of certain breeds, the advantages and disadvantages of how far we're willing to adapt our lifestyle to a particular type of animal's needs. After having observed for a while, here are a few things that have changed:

1. I've rethought the subject of keeping goats. I love certain goats' personalities, and I can see there are very devoted goat-lovers out there who have this animal at the top of the list rather than at the bottom. Goats seem to have a reputation for being active and curious...and escape artists. Do we love them enough to deal with them? (That's an honest question) There is one thing I'm not willing to deal with...male goats. I just don't want to take them on.
What is our objective in raising goats, if we do include them in our future plans? The two thoughts that most appeal, other than the fact I love their personalities, is for milking and for cabrito. Therefore, we've not ruled goats out completely, but we HAVE ruled out raising them on a larger scale. Another factor is matching my personal preference in breeds of goat to my location. Florida's weather can vary from sub-tropical humidity, heat, and wetness to years of complete drought and water shortages. During the wet cycles, parasites here are legion, and the heat is always a factor. Though I might be mistaken, it seems that in researching goat breeds that the dairy breeds are suited primarily for colder climates, or at least the breeds I seem more attracted to, such as the Swiss dairy breeds.

How much do I TRULY want to milk every day, if at all? That continues to be a consideration. I'm likely one of the few folks out there who prefer cow's milk to goat milk for drinking...the only goat milk I've had so far did have a different and unfamiliar taste, or at least my palate thought so. But I'd love to make yogurt from it, and cheeses and soaps...on a small scale, not on a large scale. So there are our goat concerns.

2. Some of the deciding factors, while this may seem shallow, are simply that we're attracted to some and not to others. Why are we attracted to certain breeds and not others? Because of the fact that our mini-farm will be a personal "smallholding" rather than a large scale income-producer, some of the choices are not going to be determined solely by the bottom line, but rather in matching the choices to our personal preferences rather than modern dictates such as fastest growers, best market weight, most demand, etc. Yes, we want to do things practically. But yes, we also will make certain decisions based upon...what we LIKE. And it may not make sense to anyone else. I know it may sound crazy, but if I don't like the looks of a particular breed of animal, we likely won't be very excited about raising them and investing our resources into them. Maybe that's why some people like large dogs and other folks like toy poodles...who can explain our preferences? the other factors are primary, but much as it may sound fickle, if I am not attracted to the physical attributes of a type of animal, I'm not very excited about making it a member of our future small-scale and highly-personal farmyard.

I wonder if this is normal? For instance, I prefer a certain type of ear on a goat. If we knew we needed to raise a few goats for meat, we'd go with a breed such as Boer, most likely. And Nubians seem to do better in our climate than the temperate climate dairy breeds. I'm just not excited about either of these breeds overall, though they're exceptional animals, for the simple and very fickle reason that I don't like the look of lop-eared goats. And since I can raise other types of animals for meat just now, I'm more drawn to other types.

It's the same with cattle. With so many choices, when we narrow down the breed to one with the characteristics we NEED, there are still so many breeds from which to choose that it's easy to gravitate to ones we like the other, less important, characteristics of. So when we've satisfied the necessary considerations such as Use (dairy, meat, or dual?), Size, Polled or Horned, Best Suited to Climate, Parasite Resistant, Heritage, Ease of birth, Good Mothering Skills, Availability of Feed, Temperament, etc...then it comes right down to the question of which one appeals most to us personally. And of course, is that sort actually available? In the end, I might have narrowed it down to a Zebu, Brahma, or Dexter. All three are suited to this climate and other needs in certain respects. We'd choose Dexter, though, not only for temperament, but simply because I prefer their overall look and size better...or something...who can explain preferences except to say we LIKE them a lot? That might seem shallow reasoning, but I guess it factors in.

3. Manageability. We want animals we can keep for the long run so that we can, over time, adapt and fine-tune until it's manageable. We'll always be up for improvements and trying new things, but we want to focus enough to actually succeed in being good at the overall. We'll start small, and grow it from there to whatever is manageable for us. I'd love to have a dozen types of chickens, all heritage or dual purpose. We'll start with two or three types, see which are a good fit and which aren't, and then figure that in before adding other types. Although I don't anticipate this happening, we don't want to start with 50 chickens only to decide by the end of that year "I HATE keeping chickens!" and never trying it again. We can only guess right now if we'll really use all those eggs we want from the hens, or whether processing chickens ourselves for meat is something we want to do on a large or smaller scale...or at all. It's hard when it's ALL theoretical. We do, however, like to eat, and this is a primary consideration in all our decisions...we want to replace our dependence on the grocery store with home-raised foods.

4. Though the point in raising animals is (how to say this delicately?) primarily to eat them, there will be those we won't eat. I've already told my husband this. I really want a family cow to milk. After her giving us some calves and milk long-term, we will NOT be eating her. The same with particular (not ALL) hens who've layed their little hearts out and are past their prime, or are especially good mothers. It's not ALL about the bottom line and chicken and dumplings. The animals that are slaughtered for food will be raised compassionately and are due a large measure of respect. And out of the same sort of respect, there WILL be individuals I know we'll spare from slaughter simply because of how much they've already given us.

On the next post, I'll mention what we think we've narrowed the list down to at this point :) To be continued...

Photo link: Winner Nancy J. Reynolds http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.etext.org/Zines/Intl_Teletimes/Teletimes_HTML/cows_come_home.jpeg&imgrefurl=http://www.etext.org/Zines/Intl_Teletimes/Teletimes_HTML/winners_gallery_94.html&h=450&w=742&sz=150&hl=en&start=8&tbnid=s35rWxBSG2nSHM:&tbnh=86&tbnw=141&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dcows%2Bcome%2Bhome%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den Goat picture: http://www.neatorama.com/images/2007-01/tree-goat-3.jpg Dexter calf photo link from FingerLakes Dexters site: http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.nehbc.org/img_directory/mem_fingerlakes/fingerlakes3.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.nehbc.org/img_directory/fingerlakes_dexters.html&h=319&w=426&sz=30&hl=en&start=11&tbnid=ud0F2a4oV7REmM:&tbnh=94&tbnw=126&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddexter%2Bcattle%26gbv%3D2%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den


tina f. said...

I just KNEW that was a Dexter calf!! Obviously I really like the Dexters. They are so mellow, especially with early handling. And they are very productive, often calving in their late teens. You just can't go wrong with them. (But as far as yogurt goes you can't beat sheep's milk yogurt. It's like a desert!) Sigh... One of these days I'll have more than one acre.

Robbyn said...

You do so much with your acre, Tina! I'm just aching for any amount of land right now that is not zoned residential...we're so restricted where we are that we can't have a single chicken, not even one! Yes, the Dexters seem great...I'm also interested in the American British Whites, too.

Jo said...

I feel all that, Robbyn. And then I found myself feeling bad about preferring certain chickens over others and the next thing I knew, I liked the ones I had thought I wouldn't like.

And as good as the goats are at escaping, I love them almost unnaturally. Even Mr. Picante is friendly, loving and pretty laid back. And only rarely pees on himself. ;)

I'd looked into Dexters and Highlanders here, and the prices are just too high for us to consider it right now. We'll probably go with castoffs from local dairies for steer calves once a year. For milk, I will eventually go with goats. Milking daily is just one more chore on the list, after all. We feed, water and clean a little, and it's another few minutes to milk. It's the "got to be home" commitment that can get old...but like you said, parenting is like that too.

Robbyn said...

Ha, Jo! That just goes to show what I know yet...not much :) At this point, even having a dog or cat will be such happiness, since we've been holding off on having ANY animals till we're settled somewhere. It'll be interesting to see how this all gets rewritten in the long run...guess that process is part of the fun :)