Despite the many hardships smallholders/permaculturists and those following their own path to self-sufficiency endure, it seems to me that there are far more positives to this lifestyle than negatives. Or maybe that is just because I really do see everything through rose-tinted spectacles and that’s how I enjoy living it?
It certainly isn’t an easy life or for the faint hearted.
Some examples: Well there is the lugging of firewood, the cutting, stacking and sawing that accompanies a life in a basic cottage where wood is the only fuel that heats your home and your water. Then there is the dusty job of cleaning out the stove/ fireplace, the making of compost, the baking of bread, cheesemakiing, brewing and fermenting food and drinks, mucking out animal housing, erecting fencing, growing food, walking to and from your paddocks daily, the carrying and stacking of bales of hay, filling of haynets and hayracks, filling and carrying of water buckets and topping up of troughs, the carrying of hefty 25kg sacks of animal feed, much sweeping of yards, the heavy wheelbarrowing of loads of well-rotted manure onto veg beds, preserving your food and cleaning up your clothes and cottage interiors of all the hay and mud that seems to be the identity badge of the self-sufficient / small-scale farmer.
I have days when utter exhaustion wipes out any sense of wellbeing and enthusiasm, just like anyone else does, yet those rough days tend to be balanced out with far more days filled with pure joy at having witnessed something wonderful. Today it was the joy of seeing some jays, four of them actually, a bee fly and a red admiral butterfly on our walk back from the pony paddocks and at having achieved a long sought after goal or dream, like getting a long-awaited pre-loved, used polytunnel frame gifted to me!
I may spend my days covered in hay and animal hair now. I may not look smart or glamorous. I may even be considered scruffy by some! ha! But it is the special moments that make it all worthwhile, ……moments such as when I am heading outside to milk one of my goats, Tansy…
I have dragged myself out of a warm bed reluctantly.( I love my sleep!)
I am alone.
It is very early in the morning.
The world is just waking up.
Birds in the surrounding trees and hedgerows are singing their uplifting good morning song and flitting from branch to branch, foraging for food. The moorhens that live on the river here, scuttle out of my wildlife pond and rush up the steep bank back onto their own territory, embarrassed at being caught out trespassing in the garden wildlife pond or occasionally a pair of mallards, that also often visit my pond, catch me unawares and fly up in front of me as I walk across the garden, making my heart leap out of my chest! haha!
Trout rise in the river taking gnats and other small insects from above the waterline, and then they are gone, as swiftly as the appeared, leaving behind beautiful reflective patterns made up of concentric rings, rippling outwards on the water’s surface, as they disappear into the depths again. There is so much that makes this life worthwhile.
I try to keep to a routine here at Riverside. Not because I am OCD about the endless jobs that need doing, far from it, but because it makes everything run more smoothly. Animals get used to it and milking needs to be done at the same time each day anyway.
I feed Marigold first.. a scoop of goat mix , so that she can eat her breakfast quietly whilst Tansy is eating hers on the milking stand. Goats are not patient creatures and the sound of one eating, will undoubtedly cause the others to yell loudly, until they get some grub too. So Marigold is not made to wait. Plus I really enjoy the quiet time I get whilst I do the milking and contemplate the day ahead.
I then open Tansy’s little stable and she skips out and heads straight for the milking stand in the feed room. She hops up on her own and puts her head in the yoke and begins to eat hungrily. Goats are always hungry 🙂 I give a scoop of goat mix to her kids whilst mum is busy scoffing her own food…..and then I sit down beside her and clean her udders gently with the udder wipes.
Softly I lay my head against Tansy’s side and talk to her as I milk her, she tilts her head at me listening between mouthfuls, her cheeks bulging, her jaw in constant motion..chewing or cudding. We have eye contact..an understanding…. it is hard to explain. I tickle her tummy now and then, and she arches her back and goes all gooey eyed..she makes a mellow snickering noises..not quite a bleat, more a soft mellow purr ..Can goats can purr?…It is the sound of contentment. She knows she is loved and cared for.
Once I have finished taking all the milk I require, ( I leave some in her udder for her babies) I thank her and offer her some sliced carrot from my pocket (You end up with pockets full of odd things when living a life-like this: baling twine, string, penknives, castrating rings, animal feed..even goat droppings! Don’t ask! lol). I unhook her lead from the milking stand and she slowly wanders back to her goat shed to be reunited with her babies. They finish emptying her udder out and then set about eating the Summer scented hay that I have placed in the racks for them. Water buckets are rinsed out and refilled. Then the poultry are all fed and watered. I have a stainless steel pail full of warm frothy milk to get inside, filter and cool as soon as possible.
Now this may all seem wonderful..but just imagine the same scene in Winter. It is freezing cold and very dark…yet all the above still has to be done daily. In all weather. Buckets have to be plunged into icy water troughs to be filled. Ice has to be broken in order to get access to the water. Soggy mud underfoot means everything ends up with a liberal coating of dirt…..and no matter how careful you are, hay and mud ends up inside your house too!
I have come to the conclusion that you must either be eccentric, mad or extremely dedicated to want to do all these jobs with absolutely no break in routine. No holidays..No sick days…Not to mention the sheer effort involved in mucking out and any animal illnesses you have to deal with!…and on top of all that there is the ‘paid’ work that you squeeze in somehow! Often this is done in the dead of night when you should be sleeping or at weekends when everyone else if heading out on their jollies. So I am not sure which category you’d want to put me in?…. or maybe I am mix of all three! Eccentric, mad and dedicated? Exhausted sometimes too …But I am happy to work hard to keep the life I love so very much 😉 …and it is this life that makes my daughter so totally content, so desperate to learn more about the natural world….and I would do anything to keep that going for her. x