Monthly Archives: September 2010

Why the Heck are We Doing This Anyway?

First homeschool. Then owning our own business. Now bits of farming being thrown in (which is something I swore I’d never want to do, and Kevin was in no way prepared for!).

Well, each choice has just seemed right at the time. Independence is a good thing. The buck stops with us – if we do it right, then we reap the reward. If we screw it up, that’s our accountability too. But we really weren’t sure that we wanted to farm in any way at all, even in the back yard.

As Latter-Day Saints, we are counseled to grow a garden, and to be self-reliant. We are also counseled to have a food storage, savings account, etc. Now, this is counsel, not a commandment. But following counsel usually results in blessings, so we try to do so as much as we can.

We always had a food storage. And whenever we lived where we had a yard, we tried to garden, until we got to Wyoming. Here, it just seemed so much harder. And more expensive. For less return.

Gradually, we were able to store less and less. Mostly because we could eat fewer stored foods. This time last year, we had no food storage at all. The dietary requirement for fresh organic foods meant that we had to live from week to week on the groceries. A hard thing out in Wyoming. It also meant that our food budget skyrocketed. I hated being extorted by whatever price was being charged that week for the things we had to have. I also hated being an hour from the nearest supplies, on unpredictable roads.

The only way we’d be able to get our food costs lowered, to know we’d have what we need, and to have a food storage, was to grow it ourselves. We’d have to have the food storage on the hoof and in the ground. But we live in town, on a small lot. No space for a big garden, no space for a big greenhouse, no space for barnyard animals.

So we tried hydroponics (in the diningroom). That worked some, until I could no longer eat the things I could grow there, and nobody else ate much of them. Too costly and time consuming to do for a few heads of lettuce.

This year we didn’t even plant a garden, because we went to camp instead. Gone during the two best growing months of the year. No point. But when we came back, life was different – a little. I could eat a few more things than what I could when we left for camp, and we were making headway on reversing the Crohn’s Disease in myself and the two kids that have it. We’d still have to eat organic, and lots of fresh foods, for the rest of our lives though. So while we could now eat more of what we could grow, we still needed to grow it.

Before we left for camp, we talked about rabbits. So we did that. Then ducks occurred to us. We studied it out and got the ones we felt inspired to get. We’re still discovering¬† just how inspired that choice was, as we learn how much that one choice is affecting our costs and health.

We had a desire to be more self-sufficient, and Kevin and I have talked about land and raising animals for some time. But I didn’t really want to raise the animals. He halfheartedly agreed (turns out he loves caring for the animals). We bought the rabbits when we did because we knew we would not have the choices we wanted in Wyoming, and David was traveling to Utah – right then. We got the ducks when we did because it felt like we needed to – turns out we really did need to.

So a series of needs have sort of pushed us where we might not have gone otherwise. I think we might have talked about it, but not really lived it.

Even now, we did not expect to do this in Wyoming, while still living on a small city lot. We expected to plan and prepare and move somewhere warmer first. A common thing for people to do as they get older, but this isn’t exactly retirement we are talking about.

So now, we divide our time between business and taking care of the animals and greenhouse. Hard to balance sometimes. Takes the cooperation of the kids to make it work too. But both the business and the farm stuff yields a profit. More than we thought it would.

One little Muscovy duck. Gave us 4 lbs of meat. Kevin and I had a meal of duck steak. Our family had duck soup for dinner. We gave 1 meal worth to my mother. Had enough left for seven meals for me (I was having pretty severe protein malabsorption so I had first claim on the Muscovy specifically, while the rest of the family continues to have hamburger). So let’s see…

Each duck cost about $10, and we’d put about $2 of food into that one. 4 lbs of high quality nearly organic meat (no medications in it) is worth about $5 per lb or more. So $20 worth of value from a $12 expense. So a profit of $8 on that duck… or so we figured ahead of time (we did the cost analysis ahead to make sure it would be worth it).

Except that I digest Muscovy so well, I now only needed two servings of meat a day instead of 3. Make that a profit of $20.

Oh… and then my vegetable needs dropped from 9 servings a day to 6. Make that a profit of $30.

Plus… my milk consumption dropped from 6 servings (milk and cheese) per day, to 4 (people with Crohn’s have higher dietary requirements than the average person). Make that a profit of $37.

And then… my need for dietary supplements dropped. By about a third. I have to take a LOT of individual supplements (B-12, B-6, Folic Acid, Magnesium, Potassium, Niacin, Calcium, etc). Make that a profit of about $50 total.

For one little 4 lb duck.

What a blessing! The ducks will make a bigger difference to our food bill than we could have possibly imagined. We thought we should wait and do it later. Doing it now has ended up being the best choice, even though it was hard to come up with the funds to get the ducks (when your food bill is high, it is hard to purchase something that will reduce it later – the double whammy is hard to afford).

We knew we were in a trap though. Food costs were high enough that they were sucking the life out of our ability to be self-sufficient in other ways. You can’t save money if you have to pay $6 per lb for organic meat, and $2 per lb for organic potatoes, and when your grocery budget quadruples in a period of about 2 years.

The greenhouse is now producing also. I was using dill (as a healing herb and to help control clotting problems in my legs). A lot of dill. It needed to be fresh to have the right properties. Fresh dill is costly – one $2 package lasted me 1-2 days. So when I got the greenhouse ready, I planted dill seed – I didn’t have any seed packets for dill, could not find it anywhere here this time of year, and did not have time to wait for it to be ordered by mail. So I went to my spice rack. Found an old jar of dill seed – those seeds had to be 10 years old at least! I figured at least a few might sprout, so I just planted the entire bottle. About 2 TBSP of seed. I think about half of them sprouted. I am drowning in dill! But that is actually good, because I was able to start using it within a few weeks, by taking the tops off the thinnings, and using them. One less thing to buy.

That is why we decided to do it. One more step in a series that may take us somewhere we didn’t plan on going. But it will put us in a position where we have the only kind of food storage we can have, and where we can have more control over the costs of the food that we require.

But I still wake in the morning and wonder how we got here, and where it is going to take us. I marvel that I am actually enjoying what I never thought I would. I am amazed at the number of miracles we have been blessed with in it, in finding ways to do what we thought we could not.

Now… I just need to figure out how pay tithing on a duck.

Rabbits, Ducks, and Worms, Oh My

Sometime before we left for camp this year, we started talking about getting Rabbits. For meat. Yeah, people eat those cute fuzzy things – many rabbits are bred specifically for meat production, the same as chickens. Rabbits are easier to raise though, produce a bit more meat in a little less time, eat less food to do it, and are easier to process. Butchering chickens is a messy, stinky endeavor. Rabbits are easier and less smelly.

Kevin and I talked about it a bit, decided it would probably be a good thing – Kevin is willing to do the butchering, I can process the meat after that (we’ve processed a lot of wild game over the years, so we know what we are getting in for). We need organic meat, and it is very expensive. Turns out rabbit meat has proteins that are a bit easier to digest than chicken, which I haven’t been able to have for a long time, because I can’t break it down (along with soy, and all other beans).

So this fall, after returning to camp, we located some breeder rabbits. We’ll be doing some selective breeding to see if we can come up with a good strain that meets our needs better than the current meat rabbit breeds. I rather dislike the red eyed white breeds – they are a bit ugly, and I dislike those red eyes! We also want a larger breed that is still an efficient producer.

We now have five rabbits, which are each housed in their own cage (after a week of frantic cage building accompanied by a series of small miracles). We have a lovely sandy Flemish doe, a Californian buck, a pure black Satin/Flemish/Silver Marten cross buck, and two Chinchilla gray Satin/Flemish/Silver Marten cross does. We have named our breeders – we won’t name the offspring unless we reserve them out for breeding. We’ll eventually add New Zealand to the mix as well.

The Flemish has already bred, but the two gray does are having a bit of trouble getting the idea. We think they are Feminists, they stomp and threaten the males any time we put the does in the buck cage for breeding. Like Feminists though, the militant is often subdued by mothering instinct, and they do seem to be mellowing gradually.

Then came the idea of ducks… Duck meat is actually a good substitute for red meat (if you get nutritionally deficient, red meat is best for recovery, and this is an issue with Crohn’s disease), but most duck meat is a tad harder to digest than beef. Except one…. Muscovy is easier to digest. Good for someone with certain kinds of protein malabsorption.

Turns out Muscovy is perfect for us in other ways too. They aren’t noisy like other ducks (so you can often keep them in city limits), and they produce more meat (can grow twice as big as other ducks). They are also better foragers, and require a little less poultry food. Between the rabbits, and the ducks, we should eventually be able to meet 100% of our meat needs, and for a fraction of what it is costing us now.

Hard to find Muscovies to buy though. We finally did, in Wyoming even (a miracle, since most places that sell ducklings won’t ship to rural Wyoming). Saturday, we spend the morning building a pen in the garage to house them temporarily – on the other end from the rabbits (our garage now smells like the poultry building at the fair…). Then we went to get the ducks – a three hour drive each way.They were so big they would not fit into the containers we brought, but the farmer kindly provided an additional cage for us, and straw to line it.

Monday, we fenced part of the yard, and Tuesday, after a mighty wrestle with each one (tough little buggers), we clipped their flight feathers (required to do so by law), and turned them loose in the back yard pen. We have 16 ducks feeding on weeds and grasshoppers.

We had intended to get ducklings – grown ducks are simply too costly. So when we found the ducks in Wyoming for the same price we’d seen ducklings for, we assumed they were small. NOT! They were nearly full grown! Some are mature enough to breed already! We got better than we had expected. We also suspect he slipped in more females than we paid for. A few of the breeders have been named – The Count (a large mature drake), Snowflake (a large female with white markings), and Cleopatra (a small duck with a black head, and white eyeliner markings extending back from the corners of her eyes). Some of the drakes will go to the table in the next few weeks.

So if you have rabbits, and a garden, the association of fertilizer and compost is a natural. Which leads the prudent to…

Worms.

That’s right. And if you have ducks, it is even more logical.

Worms are added to the rabbit waste – it just takes some litter material (sawdust, straw, paper pulp, etc), the rabbit droppings, and worms. This reduces the waste volume, and turns it into nice compost which is perfect for a garden. Those worms end up a tasty treat for the ducks too (they’ll multiply vigorously), and provide extra protein for the table birds. A nice cycle of efficiency. The worms have been ordered, and should be on the way.

Eventually, we’ll try other things – but not where we are now. You can only do so much on a city lot where you have to keep the noise and smells to a minimum.

This isn’t where we intended to go. But it seems to be where we need to go. Spiraling grocery costs dictate that you either produce your own food, or be held hostage by rising prices that consume an ever larger portion of your funds. Currently food takes more than half of what we make – and we are not frivolous (we buy things like wheat, rice, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, almost no processed food). We just require a lot of organic food, and it is very costly. It costs the same amount per WEEK that it used to cost per MONTH to feed the family, and we had more kids home then. Not a sustainable trend.

Ducks, rabbits, worms, and a greenhouse and garden are a sustainable thing. They are a lot of work, but will give more than they take if we manage them wisely.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.