When we look back at another year under our belt we often seek the abundance. New connections made, professional achievements, more money in the bank, new house, new baby, more travel, just MORE. This is the first year I’ve reflected back on finding less and feeling it a great victory. This has been a year of simplicity.
The homestead has been reinvented so many times since we started this journey nearly six years ago. The evolution to become what we are now happened in leaps of faith sometimes and unsteady baby steps at others. This year we added a new addition to our human clan and that asked us to simplify our farm family to lighten the load. Through this process we unknowingly clarified what was most important to us. When you have to decide what you can’t do without you are left with the most valuable pieces. It turned out to be much simpler than we expected because we let our hearts decide. I knew I couldn’t live without my chickens. They started this journey for us and I’ve fallen so in love with my feathered friends over the years that I knew no matter what we would keep a small flock of chickens around.
In 2018 the number of chickens on the homestead had crept close to a hundred at one point! We were breeding and selling chicks, raising hens for egg production, raising roosters for meat production...it was a lot of tiny dinosaurs running around. We knew there was no way we were seeing those numbers again this year, so I was faced with downsizing the flock. At first it broke my heart to see so many hens and roosters that I had hatched head off to new homes, but over time I appreciated that it allowed me to be that much more attentive to those that remained. It also showed me what breeds I was most passionate about raising. It’s easy to get swept away with collecting all the egg colors in the rainbow and flashy feather patterns, but when it boils down to it I always love the corky birds the most. The hair-brained hen that follows you around trying to snatch a sandwich from your picnic plate or the noisy rooster who’s crow you swear is the most annoying sound on the planet until it isn’t there anymore and you realize it was a daily reminder of the life you chose. The flock came down drastically in numbers until I had twenty of my favorite birds left and Mia had her little flock of Hedemoras.
With that done it was on to the next mission: The herd. What a challenge. Goats are so intelligent and have loads of personality. We are attached to every one for the little characters that they are and yet we found ourselves with a larger herd than I could feasibly manage with the impending arrival of our newborn daughter, so we were again faced with the challenge of determining who goes and who stays. Over the past year I had savored the quiet moments in the barn spent milking my does and so I knew that keeping a dairy breed on the homestead was a must. The girls loved helping me make ice cream with the milk, Sam raved about the cheese, and I was experimenting with making yogurt. This simplified the decision because most of our does were Nigerian Dwarf goats, which are a dairy breed. we had a pair of does that were a mix of Nigerian and Pygmy. They wouldn‘t be a desirable selection for dairy breeding, so even though that decision seemed obvious it was still difficult. Honey and Bumblebee were our very first goats. They were social and sassy, following us around everywhere we went. The only draw back was that they were escape artists to the highest degree and the only horned does in the herd. We had started using electric net fencing, so that the goats could assist us with clearing brush and they were doing incredible work in a fraction of the time it would take us. Unfortunately, Honey and Bumblebee did not appreciate confinement and would go to great lengths to overcome the fence. Sometimes this meant engineering a way to jump over it, bobbing their heads to the ticking sound of the electric current so they knew when to fly the coop, charging the fence, and all other manner of goat shenanigans. The intelligence behind the plans they plotted was astounding. Due to their commitment to being free birds we had a number of close calls with their horns getting tangled in the electric netting, which can quickly turn fatal if someone isn’t close by to do a daring rescue. For their own safety and our sanity it seemed a good idea to place them elsewhere. We took our time finding them a forever home and finally were able to place them with a family that treasures them, so in the end the hard decision was the proper one. We found homes for our kids who could not be registered and endeavored to cultivate higher quality dairy lines. Finally, our herd was down to four incredible does, one stinky buck and a lovable wether for his companion. Mission accomplished! It would have been impossible for Sam to give up his pigs, so we raised a few hogs, downsized our duck flock, determined we would forego raising turkeys this year and coasted through the remainder of 2019. Using the term “coasted” very loosely because, ya know, we’re homesteaders and there’s work to be done every day! What we had left was a simpler version of our homestead that represented the aspects of farming that are most important to us. When we started out on this path it seemed sad to be losing so much of the progress we had made, but looking back on it now I’m thankful for the opportunity to have simplified our operation and clarified where our passions lie. It would be incredible to do all the things, but in reality we can’t be experts of everything and so this year we have gone back to our roots to hone our craft. Welcoming a newborn to the homestead was overwhelming at first. It seemed unrealistic to find a way to work our existing routine for barn chores around her very unpredictable schedule. I recall many a morning hearing the goats complaining that we were five minutes late with their hay and this kind of disregard would not be tolerated! I had to pull back a bit to focus on Norah and hand the reins over to Sam and the kids. This was a real challenge for me. I’m particular in the care of each animal we raise. I know each of them like I know my children because I spend many hours, days, years getting to know their corks and what their normal behavior looks like. It would be unrealistic for me to expect the same vigilance in their care from someone else. And yet, my daughter needed me more and her season of helplessness would be so short. After a few months, we hit a groove. I was able to put Norah in a carrier and get back out there again. We made new routines. We evolved again. We’re reinventing what the homestead will look like. As I reflect back on this year I am astounded by how many unexpected twists and turns it held. We like to think we have a neatly planned path laid out before us and then suddenly we find ourselves in uncharted territory. This year we learned how resilient our family is to overcome adversity. We suffered loss and we mourned together. Our family shrank and then somehow also grew exponentially. This year we were reminded of the beauty of simplicity. The clarity that can be found when we turn off some of the white noise. As I look forward to the seasons ahead I imagine my girls running barefoot under the summer sun with the chickens and goats not far behind. That image brings me an overwhelming sense of peace and accomplishment. When I look forward my goals are not for lofty expansion. They are for quiet moments where I am reminded why we chose to raise our children here. It wasn’t so that we could create a profitable business, it was so we could teach them about the beauty of simplicity. I needed that reminder this year and I’m thankful for the struggles that helped to reveal it. In the coming year I hope that my loved ones and cherished readers can endeavor on a similar path with clearer vision. Our goals for the year don’t have to be professional development or material gains. Personal development and the cultivation of our self-awareness is paramount to uncovering our true happiness. So I hope you find yourself wealthy with knowledge, swimming in questions asked and answers found, inundated with moments of clarity and peace. For that will make us very rich indeed. ~ Nicole