Greetings Earthlings! How has everyone been!? I hope all is well for everyone during this, the second and greatest depression! This year has been something of a whirlwind for us. Events and exhaustion have all kept me from being my diligent blogging self. However, given this momentous occasion and the fact that I tend to see things in life in milestones, I had to jump on and celebrate a full decade of building, gardening, farming, homesteading and all around saying FU to the man.
Not a whole lot has changed since I last made blogging keystrokes. The homestead is doing what the homestead was intended for and we continue to become more and more self-sufficient every day. So much of our world seems to have lost it’s mind and the farm lets us kind of sit back, munch some popcorn, and watch a show the likes of which was hard to imagine just a few short years ago. I hope all of you following along have stocked up your pantries, gotten the hell out of the crashing economy, haven’t been too badly affected by the inflation and fuel costs and the all around other ways this place seems to use to try to mine you of the contents of your wallets.
We took heed this year to the issues surrounding our meat supply. Given that ranchers are sending cows to market far sooner than usual because of the drought and the newest avian bird flu has forced the culling of 50 million birds (both turkeys and chickens) we can expect to see skyrocketing prices even beyond 2022 levels next year. We have been freeze drying our chicken eggs. We just recently put 50 meat chickens in our freezer, have a dozen turkeys at about slaughter weight, and we buy half a cow from our neighbor up the road. Our goats provide us with the milk we need to make soap, yogurt and cheese, so most of the proteins are pretty well covered.
As with everything on a farm, even if you have been at it for a decade or more, it is a grand experiment. We had been raising up baby pigs over the years with great success. The next evolution of that process was to find pigs that didn’t get so incredibly big like the heritage breeds do and keep a breeding pair and raise our own. We do that with the goats and chickens and used to with the turkeys, so we thought, “What the hell….” We got our pairs and for a couple of years we couldn’t get them to breed. We found out that if the males and females are kept together they put each other in the “friend zone.” Nothing. After a couple of years…. nothing. So as I had posted previously, we built a pasture just for the boy pigs. It is over in what used to be our main gardens. Evidently, nature’s call was pretty alluring and the boys busted through the fencing and got in with the girls. 4 months later…… 2 litters totaling 13 babies. One of our sows had them in a freak snow storm and unfortunately all but 2 died. We then got the privilege of hand bottle feeding the remaining two for two months. Those two have since moved on to our neighbors down the road (I mean, what were we going to do with 13 babies!?) The neighbors also took 1 of the baby boys from the second litter so they can do their own pork raising as well. So now we have 2 -350 lb. boars, 2 full grown sows and 5 babies all trying to eat us out of house and home. Given the ridiculous increase in feed costs (38% since the first of the year) we are rethinking just how wise it is to keep the breeders and having to feed them every single day.
Above: Penny within day of exploding.
So the plan right now is to send a couple of the pigs at a time off to freezer camp. If we did two at a time we have enough pork on the hoof to last us several years. So we won’t be getting rid of them all at once, but by the time we get through these 9, the old fart farmers will be pushing their mid-sixties. This is already butt busting enough work, I don’t think we will be hurting if we scale this operation back. Besides, if we still want to raise pork 4 years from now and the world hasn’t imploded, we can always get babies to raise from other folks that would be happy to sell them. To give you an idea, part of their ration is Alfalfa Pellets. I buy them by the skid (ton). At the beginning of the year, a skid was around $525.00 (we go through 4 a year). The last skid I ordered was $730.00. Now, I don’t care how good the meat is, that is pricey bacon. So you learn to adjust. We have had such good luck raising meat and stew birds that it isn’t as much of a necessity as it used to be. With our freeze dryer, none of it will ever go to waste.
Another reason for being kind of on the quiet side this year was seeing the graduation of our son Aaron from Colorado State. He graduated this past May and low and behold is now a gainfully employed Mechanical Engineer here in Denver. It took about 5 months of arduous application sending to get there. As serendipity happens, he was all set to take a part time position at Lowe’s to bridge him over while applying for a career job. A week later, voila! Good salary, benefits, the whole enchilada. We couldn’t be happier for him. In fact, we are very happy for him and pretty happy for us as well. We all three work as a team. While he may head off on his own at some point, the added contribution he makes certainly is welcome. He really likes what he is doing and the position even holds the possibility of advancement. In any case though, anyone telling you that college isn’t worth the effort probably doesn’t understand the problem. He did the brain thing, his CPA mom and Financial Planner dad, got him through it without the Starbuck’s career inducing student loan payments.
It doesn’t seem possible that this craziness of building and running a farm/homestead has reached a decade. I told Zina that it has gone on for so long now, that it was “just what we do.” Then, this past fall, after pondering the year and Aaron landing a job amidst one of the worst economies of the past same decade, I woke up and discovered, “here we are.””Oh look! A farm! How did that get here?” Then I try to get out of bed and discover that what is also ten years older are all of my joints. I have developed a pretty good case of head to toe arthritis over the years. They say to “listen to your body.” That’s easy because mine mostly screams at the top of its lungs. The other tell tale sign is that those things that will break and need repairing over time have begun to happen. Both of our screen doors were practically ripped off of the house this year because of wind. Also, because of UV degradation and wind, the roof is blowing off of our green house. I have begun trying to source replacement materials and that means that my 10 year older ass will need to get on a ladder for a couple of weeks to reskin that structure.
Zina and I decided when Basil, our eldest lab, died that if we were going to go through puppy-hood again we had best get on it now while we still have some energy. Perhaps we THOUGHT we had the energy. Pepper is turning into quite the lover black lab, but holy Jesus have I been wanting to kill her!! She is insane. I told both Zina and Aaron to keep reminding me what an awful experience the last 7 months have been. She was an AWFUL puppy. I am happy to say that her ears are starting to turn back on, but holy f-ing god has she been a terror. She is our 3rd lab and maybe I blocked the other two’s puppy years from my mind, but you can rest assured I will NEVER go through this again. We love her to pieces at this point, but so far the vet won’t prescribe her any Ritalin. Sage, our now eldest, will put up with her for awhile in the morning, but I think if she knew where my guns were and had opposable thumbs, that she would use them. Oh well, we love the dogs and she is growing on us. I do know that they slow down and they are great intruder alerts. Yes, folks, now that she has survived her first year here, I would indeed miss her. Pepper is an absolute lunatic.
Let’s see…. what else? Oh right, I rebuilt the turkey run this year. We have great luck hatching and raising our own chickens. We have excellent incubators and we keep a pure bred flock of Buff Orpington layers. The turkeys? Not so much. They aren’t like chickens that lay year round. They are seasonal layers (mostly in the spring). They don’t lay an awful lot of eggs and by the time you get enough to put in the incubator, some seem to be beyond viability. With chickens, if we fill both incubators with eggs (a total of 42) we will likely get close to 35 that hatch. If you get, say, 18 turkey eggs the best we have done is around 6. It’s much easier to get them from the hatchery and let them deal with it. In the case of the Zombie apocalypse though, we can easily go back. So I re-jiggered the turkey run to be one full cage instead of a small and medium sized one. They have a 35 x 25 run now. We keep about a dozen at a time and all of them have full access to the outdoors and the feed and water is inside the barn. If the weather is inclement, they have the opportunity to get into the barn (although turkeys are the single dumbest birds on the planet and sometimes it seems like they would rather freeze to death than avail themselves of shelter).
We homesteaders are an independent lot. For whatever life lessons and reasons we tend to be pretty distrustful of anyone that says, “Trust me.” With all of my life experiences, I have a visceral disdain of all things pharmaceutical, industrial ag, etc.. I usually acquiesce to my doctor’s orders but I am quick to start researching whether or not she is full of it. Because of this, and me thinking that mother earth is a far better healer, I have embarked on a quest to become a certified herbalist. I started my first introductory course this year and have since been making salves and balms, tinctures and teas. While an herbal approach might not be as hard hitting as a pill from Walgreens, it certainly can aid in speeding things along. Also, because of the farm, I have the space to grown my own pharmacy. So I am. So far it is very interesting and keeps my attention far better than the continuing education I had to do for finance. All I need now is a pointy wizard’s hat and I’ll be all set!
So milestones. I tend to see things in chapters and milestones. Anniversaries are a big part of it. This year I turned 60 (yes I know all you old farts out there. There is always someone older and uses it to their ego’s advantage. I turned 60. A milestone.). In addition, the farm turned 10. Which means I gave my 50’s to building this place (which was also no spring chicken age). Aaron graduated from college. At the end of the month Zina and I will have been married 29 remarkable years. I am sure she thought that it was one long strange trip. But in addition, we are at the end of the contract with the guy I hand selected to succeed me at work. What does this mean? Well. It means that since grad school (which in itself was a bizarre set of events) I am now completely unaffiliated in anyway with Wall Street and the den of worms that infest so much of the world. I have no ties at all to any financial companies, mutual fund institutions, banks, insurance companies, clients, NOTHING!! I am not licensed, I don’t have to keep up on any of it and because of all the bullshit of the past 4 years or so, we have NOTHING in the markets! Most people worry about diet and exercise but few understand how their lifestyle could be worse than the Big Macs. This 10 year anniversary marks not only a pointer that we ain’t rookies at this, but a freeing of our family team to divorce ourselves even more from an abusive society that has wreaking havoc on us for decades.
I spent this past year in kind of a Meditational awareness. I knew that I had given my 50’s to the last great push of my life. My purpose was to build the farm, get the kid through school, become as self-sufficient as possible and then be able to live a life free from the insanity going on all around us. It has all worked out better than I think we expected. But it came at a cost. 10 years. Now yes, you could say, it was a dream. You’d be right. But I never thought, when we started this that it would become a bunker against some seriously psychotic behavior in our world. The pure intention of the farm was to live a rural life, grow great food and simply have a good time doing it. Since then, we have financial upheaval, supply chain disruptions, bat bug hysteria, food shortages, toilet paper shortages, climate chaos, and a partridge in a pear tree. So as an abused soul would do, he pushed all the enjoyment to the back burner once again and enlisted the great internal warrior and fortified the keep. In therapy we called my inner warrior, The Incredible Hulk. It worked. However, that greater purpose that so many have said, “but now you should enjoy it,” went to the wishful list in the sky. The idyllic farmstead with antiques and beauty and creativity went the way of defense against the dark arts. The pointy hatted wizard set to fend off even more than he did with clients because the shit hadn’t hit the fan so hard yet then. But the warrior is so very tired. The task, Herculean. It is time to become simply the Wise Old Sage.
So what happens now? With this blog? I will probably continue on as the spirit moves me. I am weary of posting garden planting, harvesting, animals and fences. So something else will likely take it’s place. I do know for certain, that I am going to be disappearing for a great deal of this next near. You see, in this past year I was able to really work on some things. I can tell you without a doubt that I know who I am, what I want, and what I will and will not tolerate from anyone. That statement comes from years and years and thousands of dollars of trying to figure it out. If you look at some of the recent videos of the actor Jim Carrey, it is much the same. Awakening. It is thus: After all that the people close to me and then the wider society put me through, I will be living the rest of my life (The Last Third as I have coined it) authentically, without regard to opinion, and unapologetically. As a family, we have done above and beyond the call to get here; but get here we have. I will be working on developing the creative spirit of this place. It was a sad part of my upbringing that happiness was considered selfish. I know it exists, but I am working very hard to understand what it actually is. I am thinking that contentment is a better term. We will always take our responsibility for our animals and the necessary chores here seriously, but it is high time that this place become the Shire we always intended it to be. Animals will be simplified. Gardens prioritized. Crafts will be incorporated, and natural beauty will be the emphasis. After all, we live in a universe where souls get eaten. There comes a time when enough is enough. While yes, age is a contributing factor, so is a past marathon life of full time work coupled with building a place of refuge. If you haven’t done it you don’t get an opinion. As we hit the milestone of 10 years, that is where things will go from here. We are walking away. Ya’ll done fucked everything up. We are going to try to salvage some of reality and peace here and learn the meaning of simplicity and happiness. Happy Anniversary to all the JAZ Farm peeps. May the world just go off and leave us alone.