Wednesday, July 4, 2012

In the Beginning there were Chickens...

I got this CRAZY idea, so I called around and asked my question.   

By the way…  our motto at our house has always been and probably always will be “go big or go home.”

“Are there any zoning laws against having chickens in the backyard?”  I was told that there were not as long as there was no rule against it with the neighborhood association.  Well, we don’t have a neighborhood association (thank goodness) so that eliminated that obstacle.  Then, I am pretty sure I brought it up casually in a conversation or two with Keith, and he didn’t seem overly opposed to the idea.  Keith expects these kinds of things from me. 

The biggest problem I had was actually finding chickens.  I called around and found some.  So, on Keith’s day off from work (he was in the Army at the time…  days off didn’t happen very often), I loaded everybody up in the car without giving anyone a clear destination, and took off.  We’d just left Columbia and seemed to be travelling nowhere when Keith asked “where are we going?”  And so I said without looking at him (I was driving) “To get some chickens.”  There was a pause I am sure, and then he replied “Well, I guess I need to get the chicken coop finished.” And that is how it all started.

By the way, Keith is awesome.  He has learned to expect these kinds of things from me.

We came home with four chickens named Dolly Madison, Abigail Adams, Betsy Ross, and Daisy Duke.  We also came home with two ducks who we named General Lee and Dixie. 

We did end up getting 16 more pullets that we ordered from a hatchery in Missouri.  I ordered them, and they shipped them to us overnight.  We raised all of them successfully, which I felt really good about.  At this point in time we were letting them free range.  Not really on purpose, because we had a house built for them, but it was just a fence with a small enclosed area, and when they wanted out, they just flew over the fence. 

Another first step for us was to build raised garden beds.  At first it was an “L” shape and only four feet wide and sixteen feet long.  I was able to grow successfully more tomatoes than we could eat by ourselves.  By the next spring, it had expanded to a complete square 16 by 16 feet.  In that, I was able to grow tomatoes, squash, potatoes successfully.  By the year after that, it was a little bigger.  Then this past spring we expanded again to as big as we could make it in our space at 20 by 24 feet.  We now have a strawberry bed in one part that is separate from the rest.  In the main part of the garden, we have it divided by stone paths that make 7 full size beds.  Then there is an additional herb garden that I am already working on trying to figure out how to make it bigger.  Keith just added a fence with a gate to it this week to keep it totally closed off from children and animals.  We have found that our worst enemy to our garden is NOT disease, forgetting to water, or weeds…  it is small fingers. 

Yes that is marker on the wall in the background.  
One step we took was to eat healthier.  Homesteading is based on self-reliance and taking matters into your own hands, and part of that is to eat more naturally because you don't want to rely on something you can't make yourself…  which is better for you anyways.  I had a friend that talked to me once in passing about the kind of diet their family eats on and how it has affected their health for the better.  I thought “Our family all seems to have health issues, so maybe we should try this out.”  So, we did…  and let me tell you what…  I don’t regret it.  First, we totally eliminated high fructose corn syrup (hfcs), then we eliminated all corn syrups.  Then we eliminated all simple carbohydrates, and went to drinking only organic milk, then only eating organic dairy products like yogurt and creamer.  We don’t eat anything out of a box anymore unless it is a highly scrutinized snack.  We don’t eat anything bleached anymore, nothing with MSG, limit the gluten as much as possible (although not completely), and no fake sugars or preservatives.  With the exception of only a few canned goods, we get all of our fruits and vegetables fresh…  not even frozen.  Most everything at our house is made from scratch.  In the past few months, we have been trying to limit the commercially processed meats and eat only free range animals that do not include hormones.  Eating like this is more expensive…  BUT we have not had a sick child in almost 18 months.  Everything we have spent on food has been saved by not having to pay doctor’s bills. 

We learned to preserve.  We canned blueberries that we picked ourselves, made jams and pickles, salsas and sauces.  We purchased several rabbits so that we could have a regular supply of fresh meat.  Butchering rabbits actually turned out to be more difficult than initially thought.  Baby bunnies are really cute.  And at their most tender they are only eight weeks old…  so, I let Keith do the butchering. 

One of the most exciting events we have had at our house was butchering a rooster together.  I held it down while Keith cut its throat.  Bella watched, Remy poked it with a stick as it was twitching, Gracie broke down crying…  and Autumn got the whole thing on video.  NO ONE will forget that day.  In fact, Gracie still cries about it. Now when something needs to be butchered, I take Gracie out for a bit until Keith, Autumn, and Remy are done.

So, then in our pursuit to eradicate the artificial preservatives, hormones, and chemicals in our lives we turned to our cleaning products.  I was already of the mindset that dirt was good for you, and limiting all exposure to germs hurts your immune system instead of helping build it up, so hand sanitizer was the first to be thrown out.  Dish soap was next and we moved to something with fewer chemicals and no antimicrobial factors.

I watched a Duggar episode where they were making their own laundry detergent and I thought “I can do that.”  So, I got on the internet and googled it.  I found a recipe, found all the ingredients, and made some.  I tweaked it a little to make it fit exactly what I wanted, but it worked!  And it saved us A LOT of money.  By this time, our foster children were no longer living with us, but I’d just given birth to our fifth baby and laundry was an exhausting and expensive chore.  Even buying the cheapest detergents, we were still going through so much of it that the bill was pretty big.  And all our kids, plus Keith, have had skin problems with detergents in the past.  That was my biggest concern.  I’d changed detergents before and Keith broke out from head to toe in a bright red rash that took a long, LONG time to get rid of.  I was nervous, but I tried it, and no one had any problems.  So I made a lot of it, because it was so inexpensive and I started giving it away to friends. 

One of my friends came back and said “This stuff is great!  Have you ever thought of marketing it?”  And I thought “No way, I wouldn’t even know where to start.”  But the idea was planted, and it grew.

After the detergent, I started looking into other ways on cutting back and saving money.  By this time, Keith had gotten out of the Army and money was much tighter than it had been before.  Every little savings helped us.  I started researching and reading, and I learned a lot.  I started making most all of my own cleaning products, and we quit using things we had taken for granted before.  I started cloth diapering the babies, and we quit using paper towels (we now use cloth flour sack towels that can easily be washed and they are really cheap to buy). 

This past March we made our biggest investment into our homestead yet.  We bought two Nubian dairy goats.  One was in milk and the other is still just a baby, but we get fresh goat milk every day from the mama.  And in the fall the baby can be bred because she will be old enough, and we can have two Nubians in milk.  We also bought a Nigerian Dwarf kid that can also be bred this fall and be in milk in the spring.  That was the biggest jump we made.  Before we were just hobby farmers, but after the goats…  it got serious.

And all these little things add up.  It started with one thing, and you think you know it all…  then you realize that with each more you learn, the information that you don’t know just seems to multiply in your face.  It is definitely a learning process, and one that we are eager to take part of.  I still get excited over something new.  I made toothpaste for the first time yesterday!  That excites me!  We just cut out the tooth paste bill.

Now, our entire business is centered around the small steps we have taken.  A few friends of ours came together with us to help us start and run this business.  Neither Keith nor I know anything of running a business.  But they do.  With their help, we were able to get into a Farmers’ Market with enough products to be somewhat successful while we were there.  And that is exciting.  Because now we are able to generate some sort of income off our lifestyle. 

I know the way we live is a little different.  There is nothing wrong with that.  What I do love though is how empowered it makes me feel.  When I want fresh eggs, do you know what I do?  I go out back and get them.  I love our goats.  Especially the mama, Carrie.  She is a sweetie.  And if you aren’t giving her the attention she wants, she will nibble on you to get it from you.  The kids love being around all the farm animals and help take care of them when they can.  Sometimes they just like being around Keith while he takes care of them.  It will be these memories that will affect them for the rest of their lives and be the most influential in the lives that they chose to take later on…

When I look at something, I do not check the price tag and figure out how to afford it.  I find instructions and I make it.  Sometimes it is so bad, that I even annoy myself because the projects can just add up really fast.  But the mentality has helped us out a lot.  I know how to sew, and I make the children clothes when I can.  When the house needs a repair, we learn how to do it instead of calling someone in to fix it for us.  Our book shelves are FULL of books on how to do things.  I own very few fictional books outside of books like “Little House on the Prairie” and “White Fang” and classic poetry books (my favorite is Robert Frost, of course).  The fictional books we have are all classic literature.  We also have a lot of children’s books.

Three other areas of our lives that we changed, but I don’t have room to talk about in this blog are homeschooling, homebirthing, and even healthcare.  Yes, we even do school at home and have babies at home.  Plus, I have learned how to take steps in managing my families health when need be. It is just part of who we are…  and that is how this all started. 

Currently on our farm/homestead we have
51 chickens
8 people
5 ducks
4 cats
3 goats
2 goldfish
and a partridge in a pear tree…  okay, we have a pear tree, just no partridge.  Well, not yet.

Plus…  more rabbits than I know what to do with.

The future can only get better.

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