Thursday, December 4, 2008

Overwhelmed and underpaid

One of the things I've found with this homesteading life is that things don't always go the way you expect them. It's a good thing to be humbled by nature but it doesn't make the lesson any easier.

You see, I'm something of a recovering type-A personality, in that I like to be in control and have things go a certain way. But I also know that's unreasonable (and downright exhausting!) so I'm working at paring down my expectations and instead sitting back and accepting where life takes me. It's a recipe for simplicity and yet I'm finding nothing simple about it.

I knew there would be challenges raising animals here, especially those of the livestock variety (even though Oscar thinks he's a dog, he most certainly is not!) and no matter how many books I read, questions I ask and online forums I visit, the only way to learn is by doing.

I could have made the decision to start the doing after we'd been here for a while. To settle into to farm life first, to get through our first winter solo. But I didn't. Each one of these creatures came into our life for a reason and I made the decision to take them. (Whether it was the "right" is still up for debate.)

The learning started immediately. My first lesson in animal husbandry was that regardless of breed characteristics, each animal has its own unique and set personality. While humans tend to think they can bend nature to their will, to align with their expectations, it's just not the case. And I've got the bruises to prove it.

For example, the donkeys, who were "hired" to act as predator protection for our future herd of sheep and goats, like to terrorize the goat.

We got Oscar as a companion animal (because wethers are supposedly more docile than bucks), but he's taken to headbutting me* when he doesn't get what he wants (I think the donkeys are stressing him out.)

Gallagher came to live on our farm because he needed a forever home, we had an empty stall and I'd always dreamed of owning a horse. What's more, I find spending time with him as good as any therapy. Trouble is, he's fallen in love with Cinderella -- the donkey -- and throws a temper tantrum when he loses sight of her, especially when we put him in his stall. At the age of 18, you'd think he'd have a bit more sense. But he doesn't.

Then there's the aesthetics of the place. When we lived in the city, I used to be conscientious of what our house looked like, inside and out. Beds were always made, dishes clean, floors swept, everything in its place. But on a working farm, I've found I've just had to lower my expectations: there's just too much to do and simply not enough time to do it.

Take the barnyard, for example. The heavy snow is now thawing, and overnight everything has turned into a soggy, sloppy mess. No matter how much shoveling of poop and laying of straw I do, it's just not pretty. Let's just say our farm will never grace the cover of Harrowsmith Country Living.

Then there are the times when I find it hard to draw the line between being a responsible caretaker and being overwhelmed by barn chores. Regardless of how dead tired I am, how late I was up the night before or how much work I should be doing, there are creatures that depend on me to feed, water and keep them clean (that's in addition to my own two creatures who need me, but that's a whole other posting on "mummy guilt"!)

To be honest, I have really down moments when I think, "What the hell are we doing?", "We have no right to be here," "What do we know about anything?" and "I've gotten us in over our heads."
I can almost here people telling me, "I told you so" and "You rushed into things" and "Didn't you see this coming?" Perhaps.

But then I remind myself why we came here and what we're trying to get away from. Modern life is so often one of ease and convenience. Too tired to cook? Then pop a frozen dinner in the microwave. Preservatives and excess packaging, be damned!

And yet, this kind of work isn't convenient, it isn't glamorous and it's far from easy. Truth be told, it's exhausting. It's stressful feeling out of control and not knowing what we're doing 100% (or even 50%) of the time. But every day we're learning something new and each lesson, good or bad, is taking us one step closer to figuring out how to make this all work for us.

And every night, under a black sky filled with zillions of stars, I'm learning how to just look at our barn filled with so much life and living and think, "I wonder what tomorrow will bring?"

* Note to self: Goats are dehorned for a good reason.


Chicken Mama said...

Hee hee hee hee! (Sorry!) But, WELCOME to 'The Simple Life'!

Whoever said, "There ain't nothin' simple about The Simple Life!" couldn't have been truer!

Hee hee.

P.S. I'm in love with Leeroy. said...

Words to live by :)

And yes, I've got a thing for Leeroy too. Must be the 'fro!

Mungo said...

I'm one of many wishing you forbearance and strength and clear emptiness (in the zen kinda way) and look forward to your 2009 Christmas Card with all of the family lined up. And I mean the animals too. From littlest to biggest. Ha!


Mungo said...

Thanks, Mungo! Those are lovely sentiments, indeed :)

Mama Pea said...

If we waited for the "right" time to do something, we would never do anything. Criticism from people stems from jealousy - they don't possess the b*lls to follow their dream.

Homesteading is not simple. It is not easy. But it does bring more rewards in more ways than I can list. It embodies all that is necessary for us to regain sanity in our gone-astray society. And raising your kids on a homestead will provide them with a safe haven (both physically and emotionally)for the rest of their lives.

Omigawd, don't I just sound like the Wise Old Witch of the North. I think I need a glass of wine. :o)

Anonymous said...

It's funny - our lives couldn't be more different at the moment, and yet the sentiments here resonated so profoundly with me -- thank you for voicing them! (Even if for me it's dealing with the aftermath of a department decision and a pissed-off colleague rather than a butting goat ;)).

I think I'm going to be rereading this all day.

Anonymous said...


I stumbled upon your blog while googling to see if there was a homesteading organization in Ontario - we recently moved from the prairies to Ottawa - I finally got sick of the climate out west after having lived there most of my life - our dream has always been to live in the country and set up a sustainable life style - but we have to live close to Ottawa as our daughter has medical problems and we have to be close to CHEO hospital - this was only diagnosed in the past year but we stillhope to have a homestead within commuting distance of Ottawa downtown - we will most likely now look for land east of Ottawa as opposed to west of Ottawa. we know very litte about Ontario as my husband is from Quebec and I am from the west. We are amazed at the size of population of southern Ontario and also that people can have a good life without being dependant on big city jobs.

However as I mentioned we will hve to stay within an hours drive of CHEO in eastern Ottawa.

Our original plan was to use Ottawa as a stepping stone to go out to Nova Scotia (since we knew so little about Ontario) but we are beginning to really like this area - climate is way better than out west you can grow flowers in April till October (unheard of on the prairies) but it does cost way more to live out here than out there - monthly cash flow.

We want to be as sustainable as possible in terms of utilities and food. I am fortunate that I spent many a summer living in the country when I was in university and have a degree in animal science specializing in beef cattle production. As well my dad was a vet and I worked closely with him before he died and can do minor surgeries involving castrations etc. Also when I lived in the country I had only electricity - water came from a well, heat came from a wood stove etc. and grew all my own food while I worked with farmers in the area.

I can my own food, make our own sausages, regularly smoke our meats and fish that my husband brings down/catches and my dream has been to have a full smoke house and when we semi retire sell our sausages/smoked goods at local farmers markets.

But my challenge right now is learning about good areas to homestead in around Ottawa - We know nothing about the communities etc around here - we don;t know where the good farmers markets are and whether we should settle east, west or south of Ottawa. We also don't want to pay exhorbitant prices like out west in Alberta (where land outside Calgary Edmonton was way more than land outside places like Winnipeg or Saskatoon)

Any websites you can point to for me that can give me information about homesteading out here? I will read your blog over the xmas holidays to get as much info as I can but would really appreciate any info you can pass on as well via the blog.


Musia said...

Hi Musia,
Nice to "meet" you, even though it's just virtually! After the Christmas madness settles down, I'll post a proper response to your great comment/questions.
cheers, Fiona

Anonymous said...

Hi Fiona

Was hoping you could pass on some websites about homesteading out in the Ottawa region. I know the snowstorm is coming our way - probably hit your area already as I write this at 6:40 am - stay tight, warm and cozy - and safe.

Musia - (blog farmgirlwanabe)

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