Sunday, January 29, 2006

Looking Ahead

As I sit here looking out across the barn yard we are getting a fresh blanket of snow. It’s been coming down on and off since last night. It’s beautiful and still outside with the snow hanging on every limb and branch. Someone once said “winter in the North Woods is like living in a post card”. I couldn’t agree with them more, especially on a day like this.

This is a great time of year for reflection. To look back at what we’ve done in the past, dream of the future and what we are going to do next season. Kelli and I have simplified our lives down to the bare minimum here at the farm and it is time to regroup and get serious about what goals to set next.

We’ve had tons of experience raising all kinds of animals over these past years. Goats, sheep, pigs, steer, rabbits, ducks, geese, chickens, guineas fowl and horses have all passed through our gates. Not to mention the usual household pets dogs and cats. We each have our own dog, 5 in all, 4 in the house and 1 outside. The one outside is mine a beautiful Siberian Husky named Apollo. The cats are all outside too. Never been into cats walking on the counters and such, so outside they stay. You might wonder how we came to have all these critters what with the limited income we’ve had since moving to northern Wisconsin.

Really if you have the space, it isn’t that hard to find animals. For one thing there are plenty of folks who for one reason or another can’t or don’t want to keep them any more and are more than glad to give them to someone who will take good care of them. Also in our region there are several animal swaps which we quite enjoy. Folks from all walks of life come to trade, barter, or sell their country products and critters of every type. We have met lots of neat and interesting folks at animal swaps. One word of caution though. Obtaining anything from an animal swap can be a risky proposition as you can quite easily get stuck with someone else’s cast offs. Sometimes people are just there, getting rid of.

We once obtained a milk goat that way and after having it awhile you could see there where things about the creature that made you realize why they got rid of her in the first place. First of all she must of had some kind of birth defect because she had a hard time going full term with kidding and gave birth prematurely. She did work out alright as a milker, however. She was very tame, a real sweet heart really, but twice a day about a half an hour before milking time she would start this horrible bellering. I mean she sounded like someone was being murdered. We don’t have neighbors right on our door step but, they where plenty close enough to hear that terrible wailing. It’d carry a half mile easily. If we were out in the woods and it was getting even close to time to milk her she’d let us know. And if we didn’t come running she’d get louder and louder. Pretty soon people would swear someone just got their arm caught in a ringer. Didn’t take much imagination to know why she got taken to the swap.

That’s how we managed to acquire so many animals over the years. Mostly we got every bodies cast offs. You can get them real cheap or even free that way. But, I wouldn’t recommend it if you don’t have to. Everything I have ever read through my life regarding raising any kind of animal is to get the best stock you can possibly afford. Now, there are charlatans who will rip you off every time. I don’t mean to suggest paying too much either. However good quality foundation stock from a reputable breeder is usually going to cost a little bit. The highest quality animals should fetch the highest prices. I have heard of good natured folks giving people who are just getting into it a break and not charging top price, just out of the joy of seeing someone get started. But, that is more the exception than the rule.

Then again if you aren’t going into breeding and if you just want to raise something for meat no sense paying a high price if you don’t have to. One time we got some runt pigs that way. We went to a well known pig farmer who always had babies in the spring. By the time we contacted him he was completely sold out of piglets but he did have a couple runts he’d let go for half what he usually charged. We bought them and they were fine. They didn’t get near as big as the usual pig when they where at butchering age but, it didn’t matter to us. They were healthy and sound otherwise. Tasted great. There is no comparing home raised meat with what you get in the supermarkets. Home raised is superior in every way. No contest.

Right now as I’ve mentioned previously, over the past year or so we have down scaled and are down to just raising poultry. They have worked well for us and pretty much pay their way. The next phase is to start experimenting with growing our own feed for the birds. Earlier I read Northern Farmers January 27th post about this very subject and am encouraged that we can indeed become independent from store bought feed. Currently we have gotten our egg layers off of the commercial laying mash and are using an old time mix that a good friend recently learned about. I’m embarrassed to admit that right now I don’t even know what’s in it. We just tell the feed store to give us Christine’s mix. The hens are laying well on it and are looking good and healthy too. As soon as I find out the recipe I’ll be sure to include it in a future post. One thing I know for sure is that it does not have soy bean. But the ultimate goal is to start growing it ourselves. Harvesting grain is something we know very little about so we have some learning ahead of us.

The next animal venture we get into we want to do it right. It is going to have to be self supporting if we are going to do it at all. Like our friend Christine, wants to get into raising meat goats. We have talked in the past about going in on it with her. We have the space and if we teamed up together to harvest our own feed right here then it might work out. Finding a market is also another big consideration.

Well, I guess I’d better wind this down if I’m going to get it posted today. I have some pictures that I want to include and with this dial up connection it takes what seems like forever. Our kids are house sitting for some friends and we are going to take a chicken dinner down and eat with them.

Oh, by the way, we just got the last of last falls broilers butchered up this past Friday. Boy were they some hefty buggers.

Until Next Time

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back On Track

This morning I was thinking about what to post next on this blog. I could keep going on about the NAIS and make this blog into a political soap box but, I think most of us just want to keep on pursuing the sharing of our lives of faith and the agrarian way. Not that I’m setting aside my convictions that this totalitarian NAIS system isn’t something that needs to be fought against, by any means. In fact I just put together a packet of information to send to my relatives in Tennessee with the hope that they will get fired up enough to form their own networks of resistance.

Between our family and friends this has all been a topic of hot discussion. There has been talk of civil disobedience and forming under ground communities in order to get around the system if we can’t get it stopped or changed. We have friends of like mind around here and the topic of community has often come up in the past anyway. Usually though, we light heartedly entertain the notion that we could all start our own intentional type community. It would be a place on some large parcel of land, say a thousand acres, that we would all go in on together. We would share responsibilities, talents and so forth. But, it is all been just light hearted talk, with no serious commitment on anyone's part I don’t think.

Lately I have been putting a lot of thought into how to get around this NAIS problem and it would seem to me that tight knit communities are going to be the only way to minimize the effects of this terrible system. Then I read a comment regarding one of my more recent posts submitted by Balestacker where he gives a suggestion of how to live a sustainable agrarian life. He said,
I really don't see any way around the money dilemma as long as Christian agrarians insist on going it alone. This is not a criticism, just an observation. There's just no way that one family can produce everything they need AND want from one piece of ground, not even a large family.”

“We would have a better chance at sustainability and more freedom from the money culture if we would establish neighborhoods, villages or whatever you want to call them, and divide up the labor. Isolated farm families just can't do everything. There's not enough hours in the day; not to mention the necessary tools, skills and knowledge.”
Thank you Balestacker for leaving that comment.


I would call it community. Not to be confused with that dreadful system of communism. Community is something that we have lost in the modern way of life. Where I grew up, there were people you lived next to your whole life and if you saw them in a store you wouldn’t even say hello. When you look at the first century church in the book of Acts and compare it to modern American Christianity you see that our version of the Way is found terribly lacking. Those Christians by means of necessity, love and commitment formed interdependent close knit communities that we would find very foreign in this day and age. But, we look at them back then and long for something like that. To belong to a community where you feel like you actually belong. A place of miracles and faith, where every member is truly like family.

One thing I liked about moving to this area was that it was a rather small community, where many of it’s residence are on a first name basis. Especially the ones who’s families have been here for generations. This was all new to us and to some folks I suppose it is something they dislike. I have heard people complain that everyone knows everyone's business. Granted gossip can be a problem, but I’d rather live like this than to live less than 50 feet from someone for years and barely know them at all.

I think Balestacker is right. Joining together and not isolating yourself, is a key to making a truly agrarian life work. Especially now with all this government intrusion that is gathering like storm clouds on the horizon. Actually for us here the storm clouds are over head. When times are tough decent people come together to help each other out. What we need to do is get in the mindset of joining together before a crisis erupts. And not just with a crisis in mind but, just in general, as practical advice about how to start living life more in tune with the way God meant it to be in the first place.

One thing I do want to add, is that we can’t over look the necessity of personal responsibility. It starts with us as individuals, then as families, then as communities. Then ultimately a nation is the sum total of those things. Personal responsibility is disappearing in this country. Everyone thinks they are entitled to a free ride. So the moral fabric of our nation is crumbling down around us. They say that America is the greatest nation on earth. At this point I would beg to differ. We are on a downward slide because the most fundamental elements of strength are being forsaken. Agrarian living is actually a stepping out of that downward spiral. It’s like we are seeing the direction that the modern world is heading and we are stepping off before the big crash.

Our Personal Vision

The Lord has blessed our family with a perfect homesteading location. We have a good mix of open land and woods. Roughly 40 acres is open with 80 acres of woods. Much of the middle and back 40’s are swamp with lots of cedar and tamarack. Good tree’s for making fence posts. Unfortunately we let a logger come in about ten years ago who took all the mature aspen and birch. If I had it to do over again I would not have sold it all off. For what we got out of it, the tree’s would have been far more valuable left for our own use, for fire wood and building projects. Plus the loggers made a mess rutting up the terrain and leaving the place like a tornado ripped through. The Aspen are growing back but they are still way too young to be of any use. Our children will appreciate them someday.

The soil is a rich sandy loam. There is a spring for watering livestock.
I really don’t know what kind of grasses and weeds are growing in the pasture but, whatever it is it has kept horses and livestock we’ve had well fed in the summer months. It is all growing wild and we have not done anything to it, but the animals actually grow fat on it.

I believe, this place, if managed properly could feed not only us but the majority of our small community. The space we use for our own personal needs is only about the size of a city lot. Last season we finally did some intensive gardening. Before last year we gardened the traditional way tilling and planting in rows. It takes more space and labor to garden that way. Last spring I finally built 4 raised beds. Three of which are 6’ wide by 24’ long. We installed hoops about every 4 feet so that we can cover each bed when frost is a threat. In this area frost can happen even in summer. The fourth bed is a 7’ by 3,1/2’ cold frame that I made from a discarded sliding glass door.

I have read much of Eliot Coleman's writings and really like his book called 4 Season Harvest. His is the gardening model I hope to achieve one day. Coleman’s website link is located at the right hand side bar on this blog. Last year was the first time we have actually put into practice some of his methods. My cousins in Tennessee have been using intensive organic gardening methods for years and it has worked very well for them.

One of our dreams is to eventually start a C.S.A. type community farm. C.S.A.’s ( Stands for Community Supported Agriculture ) encourage community participation. It wouldn’t have to be a C.S.A. specifically but, it could operate like one. For us the main objective would be to put together a team of like minded folks who would come together with contributing knowledge, skill and resources to make it all happen. The thought of farming on that scale, on our own, would be too daunting of a task for us. It’s one thing to provide for your own family but, providing for the entire community is quite another matter indeed. We really would be in over our heads in regards to skills and the physical ability to carry it out. But, I get excited about the idea of working with people of like minds for a common purpose. I really don’t know why that is. I guess it’s just how I’m wired. Perhaps it goes deeper than that and there is some destiny that God is leading us towards.

I don’t believe that God wants us to keep all our blessings to ourselves. We have a responsibility to share what we have for the edifying and building up of others. One way I look at what we see happening here is that if something ever happens to this country in way of Gods judgments, then a Christian community farm would become a bastion of hope and beacon of truth in troubling and uncertain times.

Until Next Time

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Christian Agrarian’s Response To NAIS

The National Animal Identification System is now a reality in Wisconsin. Go to for the official propaganda. Wisconsin is priding itself in being at the forefront of this system and hopes to use it’s model as the national standard. So if you want to see what’s coming to a neighborhood near you, just take a look at this system that is in place right now. Premises registration, the first of 3 phases went into effect January 1, 2006, in Wisconsin. January 1st was the final deadline that is. There is the possibility of a $200-$5000 penalty for anyone found in violation. The supposed goal is to have a 48 hr trace back to any animal found with a strain of infectious disease like the Asian Bird Flu Virus, Mad Cow, etc.
Though at face value it might seem to be a good thing, there are underlying ramifications that could be extremely detrimental to our freedom to control our own source of food. We are against this government intrusion into our privacy and way of life. We feel that putting these restrictions and controls on even the smallest of livestock owners will do absolutely nothing to insure the safety of the American public from some new strain of deadly disease. It is ridiculous to think that we would need the government to track our animals when our livestock are right here in our own back yard. If our friends and neighbors all started getting sick from our animals or produce, then we would be the first to know it anyway. We would be in complete cooperation with any and all authorities if some weird disease broke out at our farm. In fact we would welcome their involvement with open arms not wanting to risk the safety of our family, friends and neighbors.

So I have to ask myself, what is my response to this unwelcome intrusion? I would hope my response would be a biblical one. We still have enough freedoms where we can take some action. We still have a voice and if we don’t use it then we shouldn’t complain when we are stripped of our freedoms. So my family and I are going to speak up however we can to make our position heard within the constraints of the law. And after that if we still don’t get the results we hoped for then we will just adapt. We will learn to be tough and resilient just like our forefathers. After all, that is one of the things we admired about them anyway. Through their faith in God, with back bone and determination they survived even when circumstances were against them and things often seemed hopeless. That is the example I would hope to emulate.
With all said I would like to turn this around and conclude by looking on the bright side. Ultimately God is in control and it is he who allows certain governments to take power and it is he who takes them down. For what ever reason God in his sovereignty has seen fit for us to live in this time with it’s particular kind of circumstances. In the end, good will prevail.
I have never been someone who gets involved with politics finding it all quite distasteful and unpleasant. I tend to be the kind of person who seeks to live a peaceful and quiet life. Sometimes at all costs. But, with this issue of animal tracking, I have to express my opinion to whom ever will listen as long as we still have the freedom to do that. Nevertheless I will continue to keep trusting God. It is he who led us here and put the agrarian desire in our hearts and he will continue to lead us into the paths he has destined for us to walk.
By nature, I am by no means any kind of activist but, I feel that one thing I can do is write letters and make phone calls. Every blogger in this agrarian internet community has a gift for writing so I do believe that if all of us use that gift to write to news papers and government representatives we might be able to make a difference. Even if we can’t stop this tide entirely, then we will have made an honest effort to do our part. What is that old saying? The pen is mightier than the sword? I forget who said that and right now I don’t have the time to look it up.
So far there are at least 4 other blogs that I know of taking up the cause on this and they are; Northern Farmer, Sugar Mountain Farm, Antithesis in Agriculture, and Turtle Mt. Hillbilly. All of which have some really good points. See their links at the right hand side bar of this blog.
I want to mention again that I am so pleased to have stumbled on to this Agrarian blogging community. I enjoy reading so many good writings and wish I had the time to devote to more of it. I said this once before, it feels like coming home.
Until Next Time

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

National Animal Identification System
In case you haven't seen it yet check out Walter Jeffries' (Sugar Mountain Farms link at right) January, 9th post about NAIS. It is now being implemented in Wisconsin and will soon go nation wide if it is not stopped. Check it out, he does a great job bringing out the concerns. This is a very real threat.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Dilemma of the Modern Agrarian

I must say that Herrick Kimball's, Dec. 28th post called, "Light in Our Dwellings" was a very well written observation about modern society. I'm reminded of a dilemma I have been pondering these past years since we moved to the farm. The question is, how far exactly, can or should a person go to keep ones self from being caught up in all the worldly trappings of modern civilization? I have seen this type of question being discussed amongst most homesteading agrarian type folks who long for that "simple" life for a long time now.

It seems we are all faced with the same types of pressures keeping us yoked to the modern materialistic culture. So to what extent should we go to become un-yoked? Should one look at the Amish example and forbid all things technological. If so good bye my new blogger friends. Good bye modern conveniences.

Yet, as I've noticed in Wisconsin anyway, the pressures for the Amish and the like to also compromise with technology is obviously an ever growing topic of debate amongst those kinds of communities as well. When we used to go to the Aldi store in Wausau we saw van loads of Amish type folks shopping there right along side all of us modern people. I never did ask them if they were Amish or what, but they did dress the part. Nevertheless they were of that kind of religious persuasion be they Amish or not. At some point their community made a compromise. The pressure is definitely there.

My Uncle Glenn and I used to discuss this type of thing quite regularly and for me the jury is still out. Our family has a foot in both worlds, actually leaning more towards that of modernity. Things have flip flopped from that of our ancestors. As of the mid 1800's their livelihoods consisted of mainly what they could grow and raise for themselves, supplemented with a little cash money. For us, our livelihood consists mainly of cash money, supplemented with a little of what we can grow or raise ourselves. And the pressures are enormous to stay hooked on money, with the endless array of modern technological gadgetry of which we are ever tempted to purchase. Every where you look there is some merchant singing the sirens song to get you to spend your hard earned dollars with them. There was a time when I had a terrible resentment towards money and modern things. More precisely, I have quite enjoyed modern conveniences but, I had a resentment that it all had to cost so much. So many reasons to spend the money.

The bible says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Seems to me, to be especially true in these here "modern" times. There is nothing new under the sun.

Uncle Glenn used to rail against all who he called, worldly Christians. He reasoned that the fact modern Christianity lacked even an inkling of the power of the first century church, was because of compromise. Christians were just too worldly. To him there was no difference between a modern American Christian and an out and out heathen. I was inclined to agree with him to a certain extent even though at the time I was even more a modern than I am now.

So for me the question is still pretty much the same. How far do you go? The answer isn't necessarily to abandon all things modern. I'm sure there are hard core Luddite type folks out there who are just as worldly in their hearts as any modern person could be. A person can have a worldly materialistic mindset even towards all things agrarian. We can covet and worship our milk goats and draft horses just as much as a person could covet and worship gold rings and sports cars. It's the condition of the heart.
It's a matter of balance, of being in the world but, not of it.

Herrick said, " The only way I know for Christians to effectively separate from the culture of industrialism is to embrace Christian-Agrarian life and culture." We would conclude precisely the same thing and is in fact one of the driving forces behind what brought us to Northern Wisconsin. However the dilemma we find ourselves in, even after all this time, is the factor of money.

Sustainability of the Agrarian Life

We got off on the right foot I would say, making a strong start of it. Within the first year at the farm we were well on our way to being able to completely feed ourselves. However, we were a long way off from being able to support our animals. We were dependent on buying the majority of our animal feed. During the summer months we have plenty of pasture for the grazing animals but, way up here in Wisconsin we often have some long OLE winters. It requires a pretty sizable stock up just to make it through and you find yourself praying that the snow will melt at the proper time and that the succulent grasses will once again emerge from winters icy grip.

By late summer that first year we could see that our bank account would soon dry up, so I started working for a local temp service doing all kinds of odd jobs for a fraction of the pay I was used to getting back in Illinois. Kelli has always been a stay at home mom and it has always been our conviction that no matter what, we will stick to that plan and simply make do with less if need be. The Lord has honored that conviction and so far she has yet to have to work anywhere but home. After a short stint with the temp service I then got a job with an auto parts store in Eagle River as a parts delivery man. Then our house sold in Illinois and once again I returned to the farm to devote myself to it full time and start building our log cabin. We envisioned renting out the cabin to weekenders looking for a unique place to get away from it all. Income from the cabin would be our plan for the cash money it would require to survive in our modern homesteading endeavor.

Back in Illinois when we spent time in Galena we had once stayed at an early American styled log house. It was an 1800's building that had actually been dismantled and relocated to that site. We fell in love with that kind of simplistic architecture and dreamed of building something like it of our own someday. We also thought we would like to try that type of business eventually, as the owners of that one said, they always had satisfied customers, which had nothing but praise to say about their stay.

From then on we did much studying of early American architecture and found author builder/restorer Charles McRaven to have the most detailed information on the subject. A link to his website is posted at the side bar on the right. McRaven is a purist who even goes to the lengths of forging his own nails in keeping with the time period of restoration projects he has worked on. Though we were inspired to build our cabin from the early American time period we certainly were not purists when it came to building ours. For one thing we felt time was of the essence since we needed to get an income coming in as soon as possible. At a later post I'll get into more of the specifics about how we built the cabin.

Building the cabin was quickly draining the money we got from the sale of the house and I started wondering what we could do for money while we were constructing it. One day while up on a hill that over looks the homestead area I was looking at all the livestock we had accumulated and the idea occurred to me to open a petting zoo. I figured if it at least paid for the feed then it would be well worth it. We live right along a main road between two major Northwoods towns so I imagined if we just put out a sign people would come. And come they did. We had over 500 admissions that season. However since we were just aiming to feed our animals we only charged a fraction of what we should have and pretty much just broke even after paying the insurance. We figured we'd better have liability insurance what with all the sue happy people out there nowadays. But it did do what we wanted and paid for all our animal feed.

Nearing the end of the season I happened to find a part time job with a guy who had his own garbage route. So I started doing that as well. Between becoming a garbage man and running the petting zoo I was starting to feel I was stepping back into the rat race. But, money was getting to be a real issue. We were running out. Then the guy with the route up and decided to move himself and his family to North Carolina and talked me into buying his business. The details of which I will also save for a later post as it will take us off the subject of this one.

It is all behind us now and we've been in the garbage business for over 5 years now. Getting into it turned out to be a fiasco at first and we never did get back to the petting zoo after that first season, much to the disappointment of a lot of people. But, we did manage to finish the cabin and our money problems aren't nearly as bad now. Actually this past summer we have gotten to the point where we can breath again financially, but I have to question how far removed we have come from our original goals and ideals.

We came to learn that if we were going to do anything here it had to pay it's own way. As far as animals go, we wound up with a lot of free loaders because we just plain love to be around lots of animals. Like it or not we had to thin it down and just keep those which would support themselves. Otherwise there was just no way to pay for it all with the low income we've had these past years at the farm. We have actually been living well below the poverty level. Yet we have plenty to eat and I actually gained 40 lbs. since we moved here, though I came here a little on the thin side. I blame the weight gain on the goat milk. However we haven't done goats in awhile because it was getting to be too much. We do have one little pygmy goat as a pet that a friend gave us. He doesn't eat much.

Chicken eggs were our best sellers so that is what we do now. Poultry is the thing we have stuck with but hope to reorganize in the future and get back into bigger livestock. We all love to have grazing animals around. It is just so amazing to see them out there munching away on the grasses all to the credit of our creative Lord. It is truly a miracle that a living creature can convert pasture into energy and sustenance and in turn feed us. I love that and hope to return to partaking in it before long.

There are all sorts of questions about how to really make a living from the land in these times. How commercial do you want it to become? For us organic is the only way we want to do it. Do we promote that and sell our produce at a high price making it hard for the poorer folks to buy good food? We sell our eggs for $1.25 a dozen right now. We could easily get twice that but, we have to ask ourselves, what we are really trying to accomplish? Half our friends probably wouldn't be able to buy from us anymore but, there are still plenty of well off folks who would love to have healthy farm raised eggs. It creates a dilemma.

I think that this is one of the draw backs for most folks out there who dream of living a biblical agrarian lifestyle. How do we fund it in this age of mammon? There is an enormous amount of pressure to have to make tons of money in this culture. When we first made our move, our kids were little. Right away they joined the local 4-H. Which by the way is a good way to get kids interested in agriculture. But, with all the 4-H activities you wind up spending handfuls of money running around doing all the things. We started going to a church over 20 miles away and with that, again there we were, spending more handfuls of money being involved with all that. Just the gasoline alone was enough to break us, not to mention the wear and tear on our aging vehicle. So many programs to participate in. So many reasons to spend money and therefore having to create it. And that is just two examples. The list is endless for everyone's own unique situation.

How do we make it sustainable? That to me is a question I've yet to really find the answer to, but I'm working on it. We have dreams and visions for what we want to do here and I suppose they would make what we are doing more sustainable, but it's the getting there that is the hard part. The getting there, without, compromising our biblical values.
These are question's that I wrestled with for a long time prior to making our leap into the rural life. Even though I have yet to fully come to grips with my question's. I'm glad I followed my cousin Bob's advice, lowered my "standards" and made the move even though I didn't have it all figured out..

Actually they weren't exactly my own standards. The standards I had been following were set in place by the society at large. I couldn't move my family to a place that didn't provide all the modern conveniences that we were so accustomed to. So once I lowered that expectation and just trusted the Lord I was then able to muster the courage. I'm glad we did it. It's much better on my out look trying to work through the tough question's while actively pursuing an agrarian life.

Until Next Time