June 22, 2012

No Guarantees

I want to thank everyone who commented on my "Goat Updates" post. I very much appreciate your sympathies and encouragements. It was the kind of situation no one wants to face, and for which ordinary life does not prepare us. It was a good reminder however, that there are no guarantees in life, and that there are especially no guarantees in homesteading. It's a reminder that while I cannot always control my circumstances, I can always control my attitude towards them.

Emotionally, making the decision about what to do was the hardest part. The question that plagued us was, did we / are we, doing the "right" thing. Then we had to deal with disappointment which tried it's hardest to morph into discouragement. Spiritually, it was a test of faith. If I say I believe in a Sovereign God, then do I trust Him even if things aren't working out the way I expect?

On a practical level, I had to examine the choices that lie before me. Our goal was to start our own herd of Kinder goats and I have to reevaluate the practical and economical aspects of that goal. In a broader sense, our commitment is to self-sufficiency, but we're not there yet either. Goat milk, yogurt, cheese, etc., have become a mainstay of our diet. But do I want to buy another goat right now, when being a grocery consumer is such an easy option?

This engages my thoughts on an economic level. Some folks think having animals is more expensive than simply buying the product, but I disagree (see "The Economics of Food Self Sufficiency"). I recently saw raw goats milk at a farm at $8 a gallon. Raw cows milk is about $6 a gallon at the bulk food store. Then there's the fuel to drive there and the time to make the trip. Seems easier to let my goats live on pasture, browse, and a little grain, and simply milk them twice a day! Even so, there is still the potential for crises, like Jasmine breaking her leg. I have to decide if these are risks I am willing to take.

I'm writing about this, because my goal is always to encourage other homesteaders. That means writing about the problems and the bad things as well as the good. Unfortunately most of us are not well equipped for many aspects of the homesteading life, because it runs against the grain of modern culture. We know we want to slow down and simplify our lives, but we often don't know how to do that. We know we want to be less dependent on the system to meet our needs, but we often lack the knowledge, skills, and tools to do so.

One thing we all have to deal with is that of expectations. When Dan and I first bought our place, I planned to plant and grow everything we liked to eat. It didn't take long to figure out that everything we like to eat doesn't necessarily grow well here. It can be done, but it would take a lot of extra work. There are only so many hours in a day, so in the end we decided to adapt to our location and modify our diet.

Expectations become a pitfall, when they are attached to assumptions. This has become a modern social problem (at least I think so), and is one reason why there are so many stupid lawsuits; folks want a guaranteed outcome, guaranteed results. It's why prices always to up; businesses want guaranteed income, guaranteed profits. If something doesn't work out, we want to know why and we want somebody to be responsible. The fact that some things aren't anyone's fault, never occurs to some people.

In part, I think this is because human nature likes predictability. We make plans based on predictable outcomes. That's why most folks see farming, or the agrarian lifestyle in general, as a hard way to live. If you've read any of the Little House on the Prairie series, you know what I mean. How many times did Pa make plans for the harvest that didn't come in? "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched" is a well-known, well understood reference to the uncertainties of agrarian living.

It's especially difficult for those who like to be in control. Unfortunately there are some things that cannot be controlled: hurricanes, accidents, earthquakes, cancer, rainfall, how many eggs hatch, etc. Some folks have great faith that science will ultimately save us from the uncertain. I'm not one of them. I think it is far better to learn to accept life as it comes. I may not be able to control my circumstances, but I can certainly control my attitude towards them.

Intellectually I think we all know that working toward a self-sufficient lifestyle does not come with guarantees. Yet crises still catch us off guard despite our understanding. In the end, true success requires acceptance without blame. It requires adaptability. It requires being willing to take risks. Ma Ingalls used to say,“There's no great loss without some small gain.” Oftentimes the gain is experience and knowledge. If we can see that as a gift, then I think we will do well.


Anonymous said...

What an excellent post Leigh. Yes, I agree that with any kind of life involving animals and mother nature, you have to be willing to roll with the punches. Usually easier said than done, especially if you are new the lifestyle. I am impressed with what you and Dan have done in such a short time. Keep up the good work!

Tami said...

This is why I read your blog, Leigh. You've nailed it on the head again.

I always like to say "It's not the destination, it's the journey that matters."

And no matter what road you're on there's highs and lows, moments of inspiration and potholes of failure.

Just keep driving, Baby....

Farmer Barb said...

We bought our place thinking that it would be great. A place to farm and raise our kids. I would grow food and we would all be happy. The reality really hit me when I bent the tines on my broadfork trying to pry boulders out of the ground. I sat on the ground and cried. I felt like fate had won. What I wanted could not be easily done just because "I" was there. My chickens were maimed or eaten by hawks. The lesson learned over here is the same as where you are. I look for that good thing in every action. The reality is we must fight the urge to control and nurture the will to steward. The land was here long before we were and it always will be that way for someone. I had a place in MA that had 800 row feet of raspberries and any number of small fruit varieties. The next owner ripped everything out and threw it away. Not even on Craigslist. They said it was too much trouble.

Our mission as stewards of the land must be to tread with care. If your heart is broken by the loss of your animals' souls, it is ok to have some time to heal. It is a statement about your commitment to change your life path, even if it means going against the grain of modern society. Every good dairy person remembers the members of their herd that has gone before.

Breathe deeply. It is the key to life. Inhale to the fullest extent and hold it. Exhale and start again.

Woolly Bits said...

you're right of course, it's easy when reading about it. not so easy when you have to live through it! sometimes it feels as if nothing goes right, and I think most of us dwell too much on that - instead of enjoying more what does work? I try to accept life as it comes, it's just that sometimes we get so disappointed that it's that bit harder to get up again... we just have to keep going and give our best, that's all anybody can do?
have a good weekend, despite all the problems that may come up.

Reasonable Season (Me) said...

This is a very thoughtful post, Leigh. Thanks for sharing "the good and the bad" because it's all part of what others need to know - especially if they (like me) are considering homesteading, etc.

Facts from books are helpful. Learning from another's actual experience is invaluable. Thank you for taking time out of your life to share here on your blog. I'm grateful. It gives a lot of good food for thought.

Hang in there too.

trump said...

Your doing really great, so theres nothing to be really sorry about. Your living the life that many would kill for, well kill is a strong word so ill say "sweat for". Richard

Thistle Cove Farm said...

Thoughtful post full of hard won wisdom. For me, farming isn't about the destination, it's about the daily journey. Since Dave died and the work rests solely on my shoulders, there are days I think, "I would have SO much more money and free time if I sold this place!"
Then, I do what I should have done in the first place - turn it all over to God, pick myself up and keep going. It's not easy but it is a life I love and want to keep at it for as long as God allows me to have the strength and ability.

Doug Pitcher said...

I missed your last post about your goats until this morning. So sorry to hear the news. Having animals for the past year I've been really surprised and somewhat shaken as to how often things die. It's really sobering especially when the children run in with tears in their eyes saying so and so is dead. It surely is a good lesson as to how fragile life really is.

I don't know if I'd agree with your assumption that it's less expensive to raise food instead of buying food. You have to be assuming the labor you put in is free. It takes a lot of labor to grow or produce your own food that you could be dedicating to something else. I think the point for us is we believe the quality of food is so much better than what we could get anywhere else around here it is worth the extra expense and effort to raise good food.

We are toying with the idea of buying another heifer in case our milk cow dies. We'd be in shock if we had to go without our own milk source. This post kind of made up my mind. I guess I'll start saving up my pennies so I can buy that calf I want (man cows are expensive, maybe goats would have been more practical.)

I love The Little House on the Prairie series. It certainly shows the difficulty of homesteading but also shows how wonderful it is to be free and living life on your own terms. I also love the little britches series for the same reason. Another classic I turn to is Lonesome Dove. There's a great theme in the book about when something bad happens you have to keep moving no matter how terrible things get.

Sorry for the long comment. Just trying to give encouragement because if you guys can't make it or give up, I have no hope. ha.

Renee Nefe said...

I think in this day and age we face a lot of opposition when we do things that aren't the social norm. Just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge of modernism doesn't mean we all should. I have had a lot of folks give me grief for some of the choices that I have made, but what I'm seeing is not so much that they think that I'm wrong... they're worried that I think they are wrong for not making the same choice.

Leigh said...

Stephanie, thanks! Animals, for all their joys and contributions, truly do have the potential for difficult things. I honestly think it's worth the risk though.

Tami, thanks! I so agree about the journey. And when circumstances bum me out, I consider that there's nothing else I'd rather be doing, even with the bad things thrown in.

Barb, excellent point. It really is all about stewardship, isn't it? Being still fairly new to all this, we find that we often aren't sure of the best path to take, especially when it comes to our animals' health. That's one reason why I appreciate other homestead bloggers. We learn from one another.

Bettina, so true. Fortunately things are looking up! I think correcting my attitude has a lot to do with that though. :)

Reasonable Season, it's easy to want to paint a word picture of "success." Seems to me though, that a lot of us are in this together. We need to encourage one another.

Richard, actually, we have no regrets. There are some aspects of animal care I wish I'd known about sooner, I admit that. I don't think everyone is cut out for this kind of life though. Still, in a truly agrarian society, there's room for both farmers, merchants, and those who offer needed services.

Sandra, I can't help but think about the difficulties you've had to face, and your faith. It's that mutual suffering that binds us, and how others overcome it that encourages us.

Doug, we love Little Britches too! Another favorite here.

In regards to the expense of buying versus raising food, I was addressing animals specifically. Gardening is labor intensive, but then, it depends on how we rate our time. I blogged about my thoughts on that in "Mindset: Key to Successful Homesteading" and "Contemplations on Value & Money". If we try to measure our time in terms of a dollar amount, then yes, it always looks like we are in the red. I think though, that there are other ways to evaluate our time and the way we spend it.

Cows are expensive here too! Goats much, much less so, plus they don't cost as much to feed. We really don't have enough land for a cow plus neither Dan nor I can drink cows milk. Goats are just right for us, in terms of cost effectiveness and the amount of milk we get.

Renee, good point! Seems to me that the number one justification folks give (1st thing out of a kid's mouth actually) is, "everyone else is doing it." I think you're right though, that folks have such a herd mentality (perhaps "trend" mentality would be more appropriate in today's society) that they are afraid of being different. They fear they'll be rejected for it. It takes strength of character to follow one's own path.

Sherri B. said...

Great post! I am smiling because I always quote the Little House series..to myself or anyone who will listen. There are many life lessons in those little books.

Reality is a hard pill to swallow sometimes but if we learn from it and adjust accordingly, then that is all we can do. If everything always went right, we would never have the opportunity to find out just how we need God and how to learn to lean on Him and His promises.

Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts.

Have a wonderful weekend! xo

Sue said...

I always laugh when someone romanticizes life in pioneer or medieval days. The truth is that doing for yourself is hard, often dirty work. The animals need tending even when you are sick, and fed even if they are not producing. The crops may fail despite your best efforts. But the rewards are substantial, even when they are often not something you can put in the bank.

As a knitter, I am often asked why I bother knitting socks, since socks can be bought so cheaply. My stock response is that they are a tangible reminder to someone that I love that they are worth my time and effort, a hug for their feet.

Unknown said...

I try to look at things as a process/experiment, and not as a set thing. Grade/chicken failure, blaming myslef, vs. "well that was a steep learning curve". The weather, yeah right, snow in June in our hills. You do wha you can and let it go, and keep on :) And hey, don't be a sheeple, and go with the "it's cheaper to..." since there's always those hidden costs to not having your own food security...

CaliforniaGrammy said...

I love your "I can't control the wind, but I can adjust the sail!" attitude, Leigh. Life is full of ups and downs and it certainly does help getting through them with the right attitude.

badgerpendous said...

You are achieving at least one goal: encouraging others to homestead. I know I think more about it every day. In the mean time, I borrow wisdom from your posts and patiently await the day you put it all down in a book. :)

Mama Pea said...

Our society is so far out of touch with reality. If more folks were willing and able to do what you and Dan are doing, we might have a chance of returning to sane and sensible living. No, it is not easy. But it is real life and one that offers a sense of pride and self-respect that is lacking in our "let someone else do it" way of life. Maybe it's even more important than that. It might mean our survival.

Excellent post, as usual. Thanks!

Leigh said...

Thank you Sherri. You are so right the need to realize how much we need God. We want to be independent, but life has a way of showing us we just can't make things turn out the way we want.

Sue, romanticize is exactly it. And I agree about the rewards. I love your answer about handknit socks. Folks like to say, "I can get the same thing at Walmart for cheaper." I used to think, no you can't. We spend our time and money on the things that are important to us. To me, golf or pro football tickets would be silly, but I love spinning and working with yarn. Folks "get" that.

Nancy, that's exactly what I'm talking about. We have to give ourselves room to learn. And good point about the hidden costs of food. Health bills for eating dead and toxic foods for one thing! And that security is priceless.

Janice, love that! And you're right, attitude makes it or breaks it.

Badgerpendous, I so much appreciate that! The joys of doing for ourselves on even a small scale are invaluable. I actually do have a book about 80% written. Then life gets in the way. :)

Mama Pea, well put, and thank you!

Susan said...

I feel it's especially difficult when what sets you back is the loss of an animal. It's easy to spend too much time wringing your hands, wondering what you could have done better and feeling the burden of the loss of life. Your post (as always) puts so succinctly how I feel - well, it's actually a lot more succinct than my actual thoughts. But you hit the nail on the head every time. I think that a lot of my friends (and some family members) think I must be out of my mind. But the sense of accomplishment and freedom that I get when I do something or make something for the first time is a feeling I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. I love your blog.

Ngo Family Farm said...

Ditto what Susan said :) Most of my family thinks I'm a bit wacky for being so "tied down" to my land and animals. With each new endeavor, whether a success or failure, I see it as having MORE freedom, not less. That is hard to explain to people who are living a more mainstream lifestyle. Thank goodness for my blog buddies to remind me that I really am quite normal and sane ;)

Michelle said...

I follow your blogs because in you I read a kindred spirit who believes much like I do. In this crazy word that's increasingly rare to find, and I'm glad I found you!

Unknown said...

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Leigh said...

Susan, that is so true. Other losses are difficult, but animals are the worst. Still, as you say, it's worth.

Jaime, I agree! It is definitely more freeing, and a relief to have that kind of security.

Michelle, thank you! And I agree.

Nancy, I'm on my way!

* Crystal * said...

Aww Leigh :( I've been away for a while, just now catching up on my blog, and trying to get caught up on reading when I can..... Doing my best to return to the world so to speak...

I am so very sorry things didn't work out this year (ok, thats a huge understatement). Sadly, these type of trials are just part of it. Some we learn from, some just hurt.

Hang in there, focus on the progress you have made & not the losses, and move forward....


Leigh said...

Crystal, thanks. I know you can relate, having had your own goat troubles. I agree, the trials are just part of it. It's nice to know others can relate and sympathize.