Choosing a dairy animal

Image result for dairy cows

Those who have been reading my blog for any length of time probably know that I’m itching to get to milking again. And I have faith that G-d will eventually lead us down the path to further food self-sufficiency and sustainability, which will include keeping dairy animals.

Do you dream of having your own delicious milk, cheese and yogurt as well? Do you keep, or plan to keep, goats or cows? Are you struggling to choose between the two? Read my latest Mother Earth News post for more insight.

“This is a question many homesteaders seriously grapple with when they consider getting a dairy animal. Goats or cows? Cows or goats? There is no one clear-cut answer for all, but rather, many points to be considered while you make the decision about what kind of dairy animal is the right one for you.”

PS: Today, my thoughts are with my American friends as I remember September 11-th. The world is with you. Let’s not let evil get the upper hand.

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Late Summer

Image result for late summer

August is approaching its middle, and while the days wan steadily shorter, I am looking forward to longer, cooler nights, autumn rains, and the fresh greenery in the landscape that will come with them.

Late summer is always a busy time for me, as I wrap up my spring and early summer garden (and prepare for a second growing season, that will last well into November). Last week, I pulled up my exhausted tomatoes, after having picked the last of the produce, planted some basil, and started more tomato plants indoors. The first spring chicks are almost pullets now, and two of my hens are sitting once more, probably for the last time this season.

The time of the year is turning me into quite a scatterbrain, and concise writing efforts are getting put off for cooler, serener times, but here are two of my latest Mother Earth News posts for your perusal:

Drying Produce – Herbs are one of the easiest things to dry. Simply cut a good-sized bunch, wash it thoroughly, tie by the stems and hang to dry – outside if the weather is sunny, inside if you have frequent rains or live in a very humid climate. In a few days, depending on the weather and humidity level, you should have a bunch of perfectly dry herbs ready to be stored in a tightly sealed glass jar or plastic bag. You can keep them as leaves for tea or crush them into powder for seasoning.

Dealing With House and Garden Pests – Having lived in town for most of my life, I experienced a kind of shock when we married and moved into a little house on a plot of land. The critters that have invaded our premises over the years could form a small menagerie: we’ve had lizards, snakes, black scorpions, giant yellow centipedes, mice, rats, spiders and, of course, a whole host of insects – beetles, ants, woodlice… you name it.

The Everything Guide to Living Off the Grid: Book Review

The Everything Guide to Living Off the: Reid, Terri

I’m now reading The Everything Guide to Living Off the Grid by Terri Reid and, though there are some sections which are obviously irrelevant to me (such as hunting, fishing and raising pigs), I have found this book a veritable treasure trove of useful information on planning a homestead, gardening, keeping livestock, getting and staying out of debt, and much more.

I have read some of the reviews on this title, and while many readers complain that, rather than provide in-depth information, each chapter barely skims the surface of the subject it discusses, I don’t necessarily find this a drawback. Yes, this isn’t a comprehensive guide on gardening AND building a house AND setting up an off-grid energy system – nor could it reasonably be, unless it were ten times longer; it’s more of a read to whet your appetite to learn more about each of these subjects, and make you brainstorm about what might be the right solutions for you on your individual path to sustainable living. In that capacity, it is certainly a useful book.

I would, however, recommend taking everything with a grain of salt, and cross-compare your information by also seeking out other sources, as I have spotted some obvious mistakes in the text; for example, the author states that beekeeping has been around for 150 years, while in fact it is an ancient practice dating thousands of years.

All in all, I would still recommend this to anyone interested in simple living, sustainability and self-reliance, but not as an exclusive and one-in-all guide. My overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

One afternoon in the garden

It’s summer… warm, lovely summer with long days, homemade popsicles, water balloons, and everything growing like mad.

As you can see above, our sage plants, after a long latent stage as poor little sticks, have grown to be mighty bushes. And our tomatoes, though still green, are already very promising. I also put in some new pepper plants.

Here is also one very annoyed mama hen. Doesn’t her whole attitude speak very plainly: “Do not get close to my chicks, or else?” After a heartbreaking result with our previous batch of chicks – some sort of predator dug its way into the coop and just made off with all our chicks, plus two of my favorite chickens, leaving absolutely no trace – I spent hours reinforcing the base of our coop with local rock. I know pouring concrete around the base would have been more effective, but we just can’t afford this right now.

Anyway, we now have fifteen new chicks, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I hope we can raise them into nice stock of pullets who will lay plenty of eggs for us in a few months.

Hatching chicks the natural way

polishbroody

In the past two seasons, we have hatched new chicks exclusively by using broody hens – and, with a few drawbacks, find this age-old, natural way of expanding one’s backyard flock easy and satisfying. Though incubators can be convenient for hatching large numbers of chicks at once, exactly in one’s chosen time (which is kind of hard to do with broody hens), our irregular power supply and frequent outages make the choice pretty obvious. Though we might venture to buy or build a small, well-isolated incubator sometime in the near future, I expect we’re still going to rely almost exclusively on broodies.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We used to let hens accumulate a clutch of eggs in the hopes they would begin sitting, but it only resulted in a lot of mess and many spoiled or broken eggs. Now we collect every egg as soon as it is laid and, to encourage broodiness, provide a clutch of plastic dummy eggs (can be bought cheaply at a toy store or on e-bay). Note: we’ve had some hens begin sitting even without a clutch. Once the broody instinct kicks in, they’ll just do their thing.”

Improving your soil

yourownhands2copy

We don’t have ideal soil – to put it mildly. It is heavy and has a high clay content; it’s muddy and slippery in winter, and sticks to rubber boots until we have clogs so heavy we can hardly lift our feet. Once the rainy season is over and it dries up, it becomes rock hard. Oh, and it’s also full of actual rocks, large and small, which makes clearing up space for a garden bed one challenging job. Using raised beds with imported high-quality soil has been great, but would I like to have friendlier soil all over our property? Sure!

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Practically any soil – whether it’s sandy, or has a high clay content, or is somewhere in between – can benefit from generous amounts of organic material being worked into it. Back when we used to keep goats, there was a place in our yard with plenty of brush that needed to be cleared and I often tethered the goats there. Apart from the brush it was pretty arid, but next year, beautiful tall lush grass sprung up there as if by magic. It was goat manure, left over winter to rot and decompose, that did the trick.”

Top Money Savers

Above: growing some of your own food is excellent, but one must give it time

For those just venturing out into the field of frugality and a more self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the things I find most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Apart from making and using my own soap, I also clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out.

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it’s easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get “the best” antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn’t pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year.

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn’t much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use – and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! One of my favorite things to wear for yard work a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it’s perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you’re actually paying for something you aren’t using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude – would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn’t a right and wrong or black and white in this, it’s all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life.

What are your top money savers?