I love the life we lead, out in the bush, with our animals, as self sufficiently as possible. There are plenty of things we do to take care of ourselves so we do not need to rely on other people. But on the other hand, there are things we do need to rely on other people for and that is usually where the difficulties come in.
When you are relying on yourself for things, it can be difficult sure, lots of things can go wrong, interfere, or change. A bad gardening season, an injury, unpredictable weather. Living with the seasons and off the land leaves you depending on the seasons to be productive and healthy, and your body being productive and healthy. When one or the other is not as productive or healthy as it should be, you try your best to improvise and hope you've made preparations during good times to get you through the bad.
But the world is changing, and especially the world of farming, and country living.
I have a great guy who shears my sheep but he's preparing to retire. He already comes all the way from Quebec to shear my teeny little flock I think out of sympathy for us. When he's gone, there is no one around to replace him. The one guy in this area (and he's not even very close by about an hour away) refuses to come out and shear my small flock and even though I've offered to bring them to him, he still won't return my phone calls. One time, he returned a call I made to him in April, in September and was actually going to shear my sheep then - which is completely ridiculous. Of course I had found someone else, but that someone else also retired.
My hay guy came on Sunday with a load of hay for me. I've been dealing with him for almost 10 years. He's always been completely reliable, and I've never gone without hay or had to worry. It's been a good relationship. He let me know he's getting out of the hay business come June, so that's that. My heart stopped beating there for a few minutes and when it did kick back in, it was racing. This is very bad news. Hay is very hard to find, a lot of people are asking way too much for their hay, and almost no one will deliver or help you handle the hay... or make sure you have enough to get through. I'm very worried about finding a new source of hay. I made my first couple of calls today to my feed store and one farming friend several miles away, and while they gave me some names, they said it's really hard right now for everyone. The chances of me finding someone else who will deliver and stack my hay are about nil too. People just are not growing hay anymore to sell, they cut what they need and that's it. It's happening all over this area and although a lot of trouble has come from the bad summer we had last year, part of the problem is the quantities of hay available are becoming less and less.
Although we have lived in this area for 10 years - we don't really know a lot of people. This is not a tight knit community - unless you've lived here your entire life. So it's hard to make progress. There are plenty of good people and farmers but little way to make connections with them. We also live quite a ways back in the bush, so no one really knows we exist half the time, and sometimes we forget other people exist too.
I try to learn new skills all the time. It's very important for me to know that I can take care of myself and do a wide variety of things. Of course, I can't do everything. But I feel sometimes that in order to sustain this lifestyle I need to learn how to shear sheep, become a farrier (also a disappearing trade out here, unless you live closer to the cities), I need to start buying my own hay equipment and cutting and baling my own hay. It's so difficult when you have to rely on other people, and also when the only people with those skills are retiring. Who is taking their place? Around here, I don't see anyone taking their place and that's what worries me. I see the sheep shearers disappearing and more hair sheep showing up. I see people giving away their horses because they can't locate any hay to buy even though they have the money. I see horses that need their feet trimmed but no one can find any one to do it properly. I see a whole way of life and a whole set of skills, slowly, becoming history.
There will always be (I hope) horses to shoe, sheep to shear, we'll always need hay. But it's a changing environment and I'd be lying if I said it didn't scare me. The owner of my local feed store said we all have a right to be afraid. Young people are not learning the skills and taking up these essential trades.
We've been considering starting to grow our own hay. Although we have 700 acres of land, most of it dense forest, rock cliffs, marshes, creeks, and ponds. So only about 20 acres of it is usable fields for growing anything, and they are pioneer fields not meant for heavy equipment. This used to be a subsistence farm but in the days of horse drawn implements. It's not impossible for us to start growing some of our own hay, it just would cost a lot of money up front in equipment we don't have and also seed. It's definitely something we will continue to look into and evaluate for the future.
Aside from panicking about where I'll find a new source of hay, we've been busy cutting wood so we won't run out and/or freeze to death.
We have a full cord of split wood by the house for emergencies (bad storms which stop us from getting out to work, illness) but at this point in the winter we'd like to save this wood for maple syrup time, if the sap runs well this year.
Our wood box on the porch which holds a face cord of wood at a time, was looking like this. It really needed to get filled up!
So we split wood this afternoon and filled it right up. It buys us another week or so to go out an just haul in more rounds to the wood yard so we can split wood again. It got cold last night... it went down to -10 F which is one of the colder nights we've had. It's been colder than that this winter, but we didn't expect it to get quite so chilly last night. Our wood stove keeps this entire house warm and even though Kevin put wood in it last at 1:30 AM (I was long asleep) there were still coals in it this morning and the house was still 70 degrees. We love that stove. So do the animals, between the small dogs, Kakarikis birds, and Prairie dogs (and me) we like it about 85 degrees in here. I think Kevin could live with it being less, but he keeps it nice and warm for all of us.
While we were uncovering the tractor and getting our machinery read to haul logs in, the Wild Turkeys came over to see if we had any food for them. It's amazing they just walk right up to you like a tame turkey - this time of year... come spring that will change quickly. And only the Toms calm down like this in the winter, we never see a hen around here.
Maximus turned five! It's hard to believe. I don't know how I ever managed this place without his help, or what I'd do without him. Max and Flavious enjoyed a strawberry cake and also some pigs ears to celebrate. Not both at the same time. Still, only a dog could appreciate that combination.
Even though we got some snow flurries, the animals didn't seem to mind the fluffy snow. Sammy was too busy munching to even notice.
Bulrush: I hope you find more hay soon ma, I love this stuff!
Basswood: Me too! It's delicious...
Bucket: I love cookies more! Forget the hay, just bring endless amounts of cookies and I'll eat em. Sweet potato, oat, molasses... mmm... I can taste them already!
It's a shame the boys don't get along. I can't believe the dog piles that happen around here now between the three of them.
It's warmer tonight, about 14 F, -10 C. I made homemade cannelloni for dinner tonight, and we enjoyed a good meal by the fire and watched a movie.
Now we are relaxing and getting ready to get a good nights rest. For tonight everyone is warm, full, and happy... and I can sleep and try not to worry. It's important to have faith that things will fall into place and the right thing will come along. Somewhere somehow, I'll find hay. Hopefully hay that isn't three times what I'm paying now either.
The quieter times are almost over. The blue skies of February are returning and soon the sap will run. Seeds need to be started. Goats will go into labor, and there will be fresh milk. So we try to savor these February days before spring comes and everything begins to wake up and come alive once more.