Saturday, November 17, 2007

Reflections

As we are nearing the end of 2007 I’ve been thinking how in 2008 we will have been here at this place for ten years. More precisely, in the spring of next year it will be ten years.

I’ve been thinking that in many ways I still feel quite the novice when it comes to homesteading and trying to raise and grow most of our own food. I remember well when we first moved here how I felt so inept about how to care for everything. For years before the move I had been reading books and publications about how to do things but, it seemed three different sources would give three different ways on how to do something, from growing tomatoes to feeding a horse, from putting up a chicken coop to constructing a house. How do you know which one is right?

But, one thing I knew for sure was I didn’t want to go the modern route of pesticides and chemicals when it came to growing and raising our sustenance. I also new I wanted our habitation to blend in with the environment as much as possible. Coming from a place over run with track homes and gaudy subdivisions I wanted to stay as far away from the current way of things as I could.

One of the thoughts foremost on my mind was the fact that our ancestors didn’t have all these artificial devices to survive with and they did just that, they survived. They raised crops and gardens, they had animals and livestock and they prospered. After all, here we are, the descendants of those gritty people, still reaping the benefits of their hard work and sacrifices.

All through out history mankind has perfected the art of breeding various strains of each kind of domestic animal. We have big dogs and little dogs. Fast horses and sturdy horses. Beautiful breed specific animals, with certain colors or conformation or the utilitarian animal, bred more for function over form regardless of kind. And all through out history these creatures have thrived and without being pumped full of chemicals and drugs. Sure there has always been the effort to come up with remedies for the various ailments that were certain to crop up. In this fallen world there has always been the struggle against pestilence and parasites and the old timers have always had home remedies.

So back in 1998, as we dived into our place here and started raising our own food I had these things in mind. I new it could be done without all the modern trappings. But, we had a lot of indoctrination to undo within ourselves. For instance we had this constant inclination to want to call a veterinarian every time something went awry with one of our animals. I mean that’s what you do, right? An animal comes down with a problem you have to call the vet. My whole life we took our dogs in for their shots. They got wormed, they got vaccinated. They wore flea collars and got flea dipped. Without all that they’d never survive? That’s what we grew up with.

Fortunately when we moved here we didn’t have enough money to spend a lot on vets and all that. When something went wrong we did do all we could on our own. We called people and read in books and applied recommended treatments and remedies, either the animal made it or it didn’t. Occasionally we had to do the humane thing and end the suffering of the poor creature.

Now I’ve come to the opinion that so much of modern animal husbandry with all it’s chemical and pharmaceutical crutches only contributes to weakening the breeds in the end. Temporary fixes with long term degradation. In reality if the individual animal isn’t hardy enough to overcome whatever disease or parasite with it’s own immune system then it should not continue to pass on it’s inherent weakness to more inferior offspring. Kelli and I used to fret and agonize over every little problem with an animal but, now we’ve grown thicker skin and have the view that if it is prone to problems then we don’t want it around.

I mentioned that “fortunately” we didn’t have enough money to spend. If we would have had it to spare then we may have continued on that path much longer of applying "bandages and crutches". When all along, breeding and management is the real long term solution to healthy animals and crops for that matter. And I’m only fairly recently beginning to understand how to do that. Thanks to people who share their knowledge like Joel Salatin and Alan Nation and bloggers like Tom Scepaniak the Northern Farmer or John Mesko of Authentic Agriculture.

Years ago my Uncle Glenn used to say, in regards to ruminants, that “a gut full of grain makes a gut full of worms”. He was a firm believer in feeding animals their natural diets. Grain is not a natural food for a ruminant, grass is. For the longest time I was unsure of my uncles advice. After all, everyone grain fed their animals. So I always supplemented with it just in case. I now understand he was right all along. At least as far as optimum health goes. I’ve never heard else where any connection between grain and worms. Any thoughts out there?

So in order to get our farm going as naturally as possible we have had to undo a lot of misconceptions in our thinking. But, that’s not all we have to overcome. We have to overcome inferior breeding as well. Both with the animals we choose to raise and in the crops we choose to grow. So many of the animals and so many of the crop seeds are bred and raised in such a way as to be dependant on bandages and crutches. It is going to take a conscious effort and hard work to obtain and breed for a natural hardiness, to develop species that will thrive on natural amendments and management.

I guess if I’ve learned anything going on these past ten years now it’s to steer far away from the traditional schools of thought. To not be too upset when a less than hardy plant or animal doesn’t make it. And also to look at nature as a guide. God set certain principles in place for everything. These are what are commonly known as “natural laws”, but in reality they are His laws. I’ve learned to study nature and how things work and to stay away from advice and manufactured products that move away from the natural course of things. People like Salatin work hard at managing their farms by mimicking nature as best they can. Not only does it make common sense buy it makes financial sense as well. I find that to be an encouraging by product of staying away from outside amendments.

Sometimes it’s easier to see what’s not working. But, this past season we worked the hardest we ever have to apply these principles and can testify that they do work. We raised some of the best tasting food we ever have since we’ve been here. I for one can barely stomach store bought food any longer. Naturally grown food is that different. It’s “Authentic” as John Mesko would say.


Until Next Time

8 Comments:

Blogger Dawn said...

Hi Russ,

All I can say is "amen, brother", I couldn't agree more! So much of what you are saying about the care of animals can be applied to people as well - less doctors and drugs, more preventative maintenance and home remedies. I think hard work, fresh air, faith in God, gratefulness, having an attitude of stewardship, goes a long way in staying physically healthy.

I sorely missed our "fall" trip to the farm this year, but am looking forward to a winter/spring trip instead. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Kel and the girls. We have much to be thankful for! Dawn

10:32 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hey Dawn,

It's good to hear from you. Yep, we try to stay away from all the pharmaceutical stuff too and doctors. Use them as the absolute last resort. In my opinion people way over use medicine. A body never has a chance to fight off an ailment on it’s own. Of course nowadays people can’t get the nutrients they need from the food because the good stuff has been processed right out of it. So, no wonder everyone’s sick all the time.

We were looking forward to you guys coming up but at least now we have something to look ahead to when you come up in the spring.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Russ

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Don said...

Russ,

We have finally made it to our farm and are starting to get set up and settled in. I, too, have been reading many books and magazines (and blogs) about how to live off the land and am now trying to turn around and apply all that book-knowledge. I still have a city job that pays the bills, and I am considering stopping our health insurance, since it is also just a crutch.

Thank you for your encouraging words, though. We look forward to the Spring when we will be really busy.

Don

6:14 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi Don,

Great news on the move! My apologies for not stopping by your blog in awhile. Looks like I have some catching up to do. I like the new look. Wordpress has some real nice features for blogs.

I'd be careful about dropping the health insurance especially while the children are young. However, I have struggled for years with what I believe about insurance. It's kind of one of those necessary evils, a person can easily be wiped out in the event of a catastrophic illness. Could lose the farm even.

We have a state sponsored insurance because our income is low. When our youngest turns 18 we won't be able to use it anymore. After that we might go with one of those Christian Share programs.

So you’ll have a new baby girl any time now? Congratulations!

Thanks for dropping by and letting me know that you made it to the farm!

Take care and God bless.

Russ

5:00 PM  
Anonymous James Morris said...

I recall, when I was just a boy, my grandmother telling of a husband and father who had severe kidney failure. The only options were dialysis or death. The family sold all they had to keep the man alive for a few more months or years (I can't recall how long he survived.)

My dad's reply - which I couldn't understand at the time - was that the man should've provided for his family, rather than consume all that they had in keeping himself alive.

In my opinion, it is a great evil that a profession and an industry, in a very real sense, hold our lives and physical well-being in their hands, and can extort from us any price they wish, up to and including everything we have managed to accumulate from our labors.

Our modern lives of ease and luxury have softened our bodies and weakened our constitutions. And the meaninglessness of modern life has made us so fearful of death that we'll pay any price for a few more days' reprieve from the grave, robbing our posterity and turning over the fruits of our life's labor to strangers who did not earn it.

Nor does health insurance guarantee deliverance - as a catastrophic illness can quickly eat up a family's substance through deductibles, co-pays and higher premiums alone, leaving the family destitute and the insurance company, the doctor, the hospital and the entire industry wealthier. This cannot be right.

But not to end on a blue note... I enjoyed your post, Russ. Your "reflective" posts are some of the best, in my opinion; and I come back to re-read them from time to time. Much to ponder. :-)

James

9:37 AM  
Blogger RL said...

Hi James,
I agree, it cannot be right, it's a crying shame actually.

I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Writing helps me collect my thoughts.

Russ

10:07 PM  
Blogger deconstructingVenus said...

amen! i agree with everything you've said! i am determined to keep my animals in a natural manner, and it is very difficult trying to self-teach oneself how to farm when almost everything out there is about non being sustainable or organic. i treat my goats with the herbal wormer formula from fias co farm, and so far i am very happy. i only know of one other person that goes herbal. even though the rest admit that every year the chemical wormers are less and less effective. *rolling my eyes* i talk more about our goals for our farm on my blog. :)

9:30 PM  
Blogger RL said...

Hello dv,

Thanks for the tip on the wormer. We plan to try Joel Salatins recommendations of a Shaklee product called Basic-H. He swears by it and as far as I know it's all he uses for fighting internal parasites.

Russ

6:58 PM  

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