Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dreaming of Self Sufficiency

For several years now I have felt an urgency to live a self sufficient lifestyle. Partially because of how remote our homestead is, and maybe because I have little faith in our government and economic structure. Throughout my parents lifetime, our economy has known no limits, our knowledge has barely kept up with how fast infrastructure and technology have grown. That is coming to a close and times are a changing.

My dad called me a farmer recently in a joking sort of manner and then followed up by basically saying that it wasn't a complement, and that it is generally viewed as a less than respectful or admirable position in society. He basically said that "farmer" was more or less a derogatory term. Well, that was news to me. I'm thinking that maybe it was good that he waited until I was twenty-nine before telling me that because by now it has no relevance. I was flabbergasted. I rather haughtily responded by saying that farming was the most admirable profession I could think of, and that nothing seemed more sensible than being able to grow my own food and to feed others.

It is really too bad and may in fact be our downfall, that our society has these stigmas around farming. We are so out of touch with where our food comes from and what we are putting into our bodies and how we treat the people that grow our food! There is a growing awareness of the necessity for more farmers and government assistance for small farmers in our country. What a difference it would make if our President would actually make some changes in how our government treats small farmers. But that is a topic for another day. For now I'd just like to dream about having enough money to set my family up to where we would be completely self sufficient if we needed to be.

So, if I had the money, or as the song goes, "if I had a million dollars" this is where I would be. I would have a piece of property that is at least 30 acres. We would be on a south facing hill that dips down into the flats for pasture. Our home would have a well, a large wood-stove, a wood cookstove and be able to be off the grid, powered by solar energy. We would have a creek, stream or pond on our property. We would have one barn with does, chickens, sheep, pigs , ducks, alpacas, black angus or other cows for meat and livestock guard dogs in it, with our buck goats apart from the rest, on their own. Leading out from our barn would be different fenced off pastures, big enough to sustain the animals during the warm months. We would also have enough land to grow grain and grass crops such as wheat, barley, oats, brome hay and experimentals such as millet, amaranth, quinuoa, field peas and alfalfa. During the summer months all of our livestock would be on pasture. We would also harvest enough hay and grain, and store it for lasting through the winter.

We would have a huge garden, or rather fields of vegetables. We would grow enough vegetables to sell CSA's (Community Shared Agriculture Shares). Feeding twenty to thirty families would be a nice start. We would also have enough established raspberry, rhubarb and strawberry plants to offer u-pick, during the good seasons. We would raise enough chickens to supply our extended family with chicken meat and eggs. If laws allowed, I'd raise enough goats to supply our friends, family and interested customers with fresh milk, cheese and other raw milk dairy products. I would have a pottery wheel and make pots for fun, gifts and extra to sell. I'd have a spinning wheel and loom to make our own clothes, blankets, rugs, towells etc. I'd also make our own soaps, herbal medicines and candles (all of which I make currently).

As far as food sufficiency the hard things are spices, coffee, oils, wine and chocolate. Some spices can be grown here. We'd probably have to do without chocolate and coffee. I'd like to experiment with growing some cold hardy grapes. I'd also like to try making wines out of different fruits and vegetables. There are numerous fruit trees that are showing up in the catalogs that are hardy enough to withstand our winters. Including apple trees, apricot, pear, currants and many more that I can't think of at the moment. So I'd love to have a small orchard in our hills with all kinds of hardy grafted fruit trees. We would probably be able to make our own beer. We'd just need to grow barley, wheat, hops, and stock up on some other brewing supplies. As far as oils go, we'd probably make due with animal fats, but it would be interesting to try and grow enough sunflower plants and try to press the seeds for oil. Fortunately crops that grow in abundance here are cranberries, blueberries, wild raspberries, edible plants and medicinal herbs, salmon and moose

So that's about all I'd ask out of life. Well in addition to a large happy family of course. After we build our main house and barn, I could see multiple small cabins here and there throughout our woods for family and close friends to reside in. For what could be better than having all our family and like minded friends close by during tough times.

You can call me crazy but I think it is more important to invest any and all money into building a self reliant homestead than say investing in stock or saving money for college. I don't think our society will be turning up our noses or looking down at farmers much longer. And, don't worry dad, as an aspiring farmer I'm planning for your future too.

It's Snowing

The room I am in has several large windows and french doors, and I am sitting, watching the snow just pouring down. It is thick but light. It falls gently. The chickadees are still busy at work despite the heavy snow coming down. There are black capped chickadees, boreal chickadees and red poles flying to and fro from the feeder, trying to get as much food before nightfall. The woods are dense with birch trees. The ground is piled high with a winter's worth of snow. On one side of the house I am probably fifteen or twenty feet off the ground so I look out and it's as if I am in the trees. All I see are birch trees laden with snow, busy birds and snow fallling, ah... I can never get my fill of winter days such as this. I relish the sunny days, where I follow the sun around through the house until it is no more. Today is a lovely day even without the direct sun.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Last bag of crumbles

We are attempting to make the transition from processed to less processed and more local feeds. The reasons for this are numerous, the first obviously being the health of our animals (keeping in mind that eventually we are eating whatever they eat, (in the form of eggs, meat or milk), we are also trying to support local (at least Alaskan) farmers and lessen the amount of fuel consumption we are responsible for, as most everything gets transported into Fairbanks by train or truck. Our long term goal is to be able to produce our own animal feed; working towards self-sufficiency and food independence.  Farmers have been successful in growing oats and barley in interior Alaska, wheat, corn and legumes are more challenging and harvests are marginal. We see a lot of brome hay and some straw grown here. Most of the alfalfa, timothy and other grasses are brought in from Canada or Washington. I've ordered small amounts of oats, barley, alfalfa, field peas and winter rye to experiment with this summer in small plots around the property. If we are not able to harvest the grain at least these cover crops will add nutrients to the soil and they provide fresh browse for the animals. It will be a while, and possibly a different piece of property before we have the space to grow the majority of our own feed.

For now I'll be happy if I can break my existing addiction to processed commercial animal feeds. I've been researching chicken feed formulas for over a year now, since before we had our first batch of chicks. The majority components of their diet is whole grains. There are so many possible additives and supplements that I'm not going to go into right now. I'm just going to list my first feed formula, and then in the future I'll list modifications, I'm sure that the feed recipes I use will be ever evolving and changing depending on the type of year and what age and type of birds I'm feeding. But as of this week the following is what I mixed up in a hundred pound batch: 30 Ib cracked corn, 20 Ib whole red winter wheat berries, 10 Ib whole oats and 10 Ib whole barley (both from Delta),10 Ib alfalfa meal, 5 Ib Alaskan Salmon Meal, 4 Ib kelp meal, 4 Ib flax seed, 1 Ib salt, which adds up to just shy of a hundred pounds. I also sprouted wheat berries and millet this week and gave them daily. The chickens have free access to grit and oyster shell. We also feed them a lot of bread and vegetable scraps. 

What is missing from their diet at the moment is a form of yeast supplement and probiotic. Two ingredients that would be in their crumbles. I think that better than buy dried packaged stale yeast and probios, I'm going to feed the chickens kefired raw goat milk daily. I have been playing around with kefir grains and I'd been planning on feeding extra goat milk, so why not kefir it daily. Kefiring milk adds both yeast and probiotics in a symbiotic relationship which is pretty special. To read more about the health benefits of kefir, check out Dom's kefir making site @ . 

Ideally the chickens diet will vary, I'd like to add in various grains and legumes to each recipe, I'll probably reduce the wheat berries because they are so expensive, and the oats and barley are only suppose to make up 15 percent of their total feed. So I'd like to add ten pounds of various high protein grains and legumes such as, peas, lentils, amaranth, quinuoa and millet, to each batch. So far the chickens pick out the corn and whole grains leaving the meals behind. I think this is a pretty good starter recipe to work from. I'll be feeding less corn in the summer. The hardest part of making a feed is probably coming up with a good protein source, ideally this would be live worms, larva or bugs of some sort. There is a lot of controversy surrounding soy meal, although that is probably one of the most used protein ingredients. Meat and Fish meals are also somewhat controvertial, but I feel pretty safe using an Alaskan Salmon meal. The alfalfa meal is also high in protein. We may just switch and give them fresh alfalfa hay a couple times a week, it is better for them and they prefer it. I can probably save exploring other feed ideas for a different post, but here are the main sites I used in researching this subject: 


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dead chickens

In the last six days three of our laying hens have died. Every time we've had a chicken die, I've noticed symptoms within a few to twenty-four hours, and so far have never saved a symptomatic chicken. The bummer about a sick chicken is that you can't just kill it and eat it because who knows what it has. If you give it commercial antibiotics there is a thirty day period where you can't eat the eggs. Usually when people give antibiotics they administer it via water to their whole flock, possibly as a preventative, which means all eggs go in the trash for a month which makes antibiotics a last measure for me. So what do you do when you spot a sick chicken? Panic. This time I filled a rubermaid storage container with hay and a waterer and feeder and brought the bird into our entryway so I could keep an eye on it. The bird only lasted a few hours after I brought it inside. The only information I gleaned from the bird was that it's poops were dry like damp sawdust, there was no coughing or cold symptoms, no external wounds, no lacerations or swelling in the feet or elsewhere. I was hoping that it was a fluke, but when the second bird appeared listless I got pretty worried. In the future I may try to do an autopsy and check out its stomach and respiratory system to see if there is anything odd, but just not there yet.

Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. There are many chicken diseases that are caused by viruses, that are only preventable by vaccination. The measures that I take for sick chickens is to give them immune boosting herbs, make sure their living conditions are clean and dry, and give them some herbs that contain antibacterial and antifungal properties. So as soon as we had a sick bird I studied our flock... and noticed nothing, primarily no diarhea and no cold symptoms. Then a put some crushed garlic, goldenseal root tincture (antibiotic) and echinacea root tincture ( immune booster) into their communal waterer. I have since done some research on goldenseal and realized that it is more effective as a topical antibiotic. So today I put a couple drops of grapefruit seed extract (antibiotic) and tea tree essential oil (antifungal and antibiotic properties) into their water. I also dosed their food up with an herbal wormer that I give all the animals to maintain parasite loads. I think if the chickens had coccidiosis I would see runny or bloody poops, but it can't do any harm. That is the nice thing about most herbs, as long as they are used for short term treatment, they are generally safe to use. I have researched using these remedies and frequently treat family and animals with them...but am always learning more as in the case of the goldenseal. 

No birds have died since Sunday night, and as of today all look chipper. So I'm hoping to loose no one else. I think it is interesting that of the birds that died one was a standard cornish hen and two were our black sexlink hens (hybrid layers). None of our pure-bred hardy Brahmas or Americanas showed symptoms. We are down to nine layers and two roosters. I guess we'll have room in the coop for more younguns now. I tend to think that my birds are healthier than the average chicken due to their spacious indoor quarters and daily outdoor time, vegetable scraps and as of recently whole foods diet...however, I think I will be more cautious of keeping their feed covered and their coop cleaner. As a side note I can't help but think that I've just recently been transitioning their diet from crumbles to whole grains and supplements. I'm going to do some more research but I can't think of any reason this would have caused death. The birds get plenty of grit and oyster shell to help them digest whole grains. But the timing is certainly well till next time, goodnight.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My first entry

Well, here I first blog entry. Over the last couple years I've begun reading other blogs, mostly about farming, homesteading and goat raising. I have found these blogs to be informative and inspirational but perhaps more importantly they are a link to others around the world who are living similar lifestyles and seeking similar goals. As a stay at home mom with an almost three year old and a five month old baby, it is challenging to get out and socialize as much as I'd like. I don't meet as many new people as I use to. My intentions are to post often, probably late at night after the kids are in bed. I am looking for a way to document and share the interesting aspects of my days. I will have to share little things about my kids that probably no one cares about than myself. However, the bigger picture includes a stay at home mom's attempts at: cloth diapering, cooking, animal husbandry - including raising Lamancha dairy goats, chickens and turkeys, making my own of everything I can including, herbal medicines, soaps, cleaning products, candles, cheese and other dairy products, gardening, preserving and the list goes on.

My husband and I have been building our house,(out of pocket - while we live in it) over the last five years. Our property is about nine acres of west facing boreal forest in the hills above Fairbanks. This is our second winter raising goats and we are in the process of drying off our last two does before kidding season begins. This is our first year raising Bourban Red Turkeys and laying we have been doing a lot of research and hands on learning over the last few years. It seems as there are always exciting new things going on here. Over the last couple weeks I've been researching chicken feed recipes. For the first time, instead of crumbles we brought home six hundred and fifty pounds of whole grains, alaskan fish meal and some additives. I mixed a hundred pound recipe up and started feeding it along with the last of the crumbles.

The other excitement is that I am housesitting for my folks for ten days and it is giving my husband a chance to do some tiling projects in the house without the kids or I around. We are hoping to finish the some kitchen projects, tile our entryway and hearth along with the entire bathroom... its a big list, so we'll see what all gets done. Over the last week I've been working on getting a webpage up and running. It is mostly a way to advertise and show off out goats. We should have kids for sale this spring. Some of our long term goals include possibly selling vegetables, eggs, soap and anything we can think of to make a living working for ourselves. When the page is complete enough I'll link to it and it should all just be a bunch of late nights for me as this one is quickly turning into...goodnight