Extreme Homesteading (high altitude, freedom, and yoga with frogs)

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Homesteading has become so much more than a lifestyle for us, it has become a part of our very being.  There are apartments with lush carpet and furnaces awaiting, city streets to catch buses on, and jobs that offer weekly paychecks.  Parts of that we miss but not enough to hightail back to it.  When faced with absolute obstacles (such as out of ideas to bring in cash) we just try to pick up a few odd jobs or cut another expense.  We are almost out of expenses to cut.  Which leads us to dreaming about setting up sheds in a mini-village and living there rent free!  We dream of living in warmer places where that would be possible.  High altitude homesteading is not for the meek.  Everything from baking bread, canning, to growing vegetables takes longer and one must know the tricks to succeed at these things.  (A reason I hope my homesteading school will take off!)  So goodness, gracious, why have we actually chosen to live this way?

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What better way to live than to live fully?  We do that every day when we greet the sunrise, when we start the wood stove if needed, when we brew the coffee in the French press and transfer it to a thermos.  When I can sit down and write until the kids shuffle off to work and breakfast is to be made.  Our granddaughter to be dressed.  Doug goes and milks the goat and feeds the animals.  Sometimes Maryjane and I help with chores.  She gathers eggs, helps feed, and pets the sheep.  We check on the ducks and feed the cats.  We strain the milk, pour some of the fresh cream into coffee, and put it in the fridge to cool.

Maryjane had her two large horse toys set up and was milking them last night.  She had me hold one of them so it wouldn’t kick.  Then she pretended to make cheese.  A homesteader at heart, this little girl is picking up so many skills and she is only two!

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I do yoga while looking out across the meadows while an owl looks on from the old willow.  Meditation comes easy with the frogs chirping from the pond.  I place laundry on the line, read books, prepare lunch, straighten the house.  Today we prepare for our first farmer’s market tomorrow.  My book signing is Saturday.  Classes on Sunday.  I play the guitar under the cottonwood.  Maryjane plays in the dirt.

The girls come home from work and we have dinner or sometimes it is just me and Doug.  We play cards, talk, read, write, pray, enjoy the sweetness of home.  We worry, we plan, we pray, we hope.  We make tea.

This year we will try to cut our grocery bill even more by growing, bartering, raising, preserving, and preparing all our own food and drinks.  Our own herbs for cooking and medicine.  We will gather all our own firewood.  I will improve my sewing skills.  We will make our own gifts.  Doug will continue to learn how to build and repair.  We will continue to release what we don’t need, learn to produce what we do.  Maintain our freedom, bask in the pride of a job well done, and live more self-reliantly than ever before.

So why do we work towards extreme homesteading?  Because after the oil lamps are blown out at night and we snuggle into bed, and see the stars through our window, we know there is no other life we want to lead.

The Little Dairy (a homesteader’s necessity!)

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Every homestead would benefit from a goat.  These dog-sized animals come with mega personality and fun while giving delicious milk for the homestead dairy cupboard along with chocolate milk, cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream!  Goats don’t cost much more than a dog does and the investment is paid back in crazy antics (like jumping 360’s off of a pile of tires), snuggles, and food.

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Goats are great with kids and teach them about farming.  There are many cities and counties that allow goats now.  There are many types of goats to choose from ranging from Nigerian Dwarves to Saanens.  Dwarves give one to two quarts a day of rich milk while Saanens and Nubians can give one to two gallons a day!  Not too shabby.

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I love cows but they are hard to sneak into the city and they eat a lot.  Our Isabelle gives more than a gallon a day.  It is illegal to sell raw, nutrient rich, frothy, delicious milk.  However, a share is a good way to help other families receive a bit of milk for themselves. Our shareholders pay a small buy-in fee and a weekly boarding fee which entitles them to a set amount of milk.  So, Isabelle essentially belongs to four families!

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Our household still has plenty for cooking, drinking, and putting into vast amounts of coffee before farm chores.  I also make two pounds of cheese a week.  Today I will make Manchego aged in truffle oil.  I expected to have Elsa in milk too (she is doing great at her new home, by the way) so I was going to use Elsa’s milk for our needs and cheesemaking and Isabelle could supply shares.  But our plans never work out quite like we think!  Isabelle is still giving us all we need and lots of kisses as bonus.

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Goats are one of the only things that pay for themselves on this farm!  They do better in pairs.  Isabelle is a little tired of being followed around by her two month old sheep brothers, adorable as they are.  We traded Isabelle’s doeling for a doeling from Poppy, our friend Jenet’s goat, who is due in a few weeks.  We are hoping for a girl!  Then a little two day old Nubian will join our humble homestead.  If not, then we will be on the lookout for a companion for Isabelle and future milker.

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The other side of having a delightful goat that gives sustenance to a farm is the time involved.  Every day, rain or shine, or blizzard, Isabelle is milked at 8:00 in the morning and 8:00 in the evening.  Every.  Single.  Day.  This halts one’s spur-of-the-moment plans, but it is worth it.

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This year, I have been cutting the rounds of cheese in half so that I have one pound wheels.  One to keep, one to give fine folks that donate to our farm.  I blended white wax with red wax and found it created a lovely pink patina to cover my cheeses with.  I love it.  My favorite color. I think it will be my new thing.

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I simply cannot imagine a homestead without a goat.  A homestead necessity!

The Shy Milking Goat

In all its farm life irony her milk is the tastiest we have ever had.  So creamy, the two tablespoons we manage to get back into the house, that is.

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When we brought her home last year at two days old she healed the wound that occurred when our beloved goat died while giving birth.  Her long legs and big eyes melted our hearts and those around the city as we brought her everywhere with us in the truck.  She went to schools that we spoke at, Walmart, Panera, even the bar (though she was clearly under age) and she brought light to our farm.

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Friday evening my friend, Jill, who gave us Elsa and Isabelle, came over to give Elsa “an attitude adjustment” and showed us how to halter her, let up when she calms down, reward her, milk her out, even if that means a gallon of milk across the stanchion and a very tired human and goat.  It took a long time but she got her milked out.  We are forever in debt to Jill for leading us into the life of goats and for going out of her way to always help us.

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But Elsa soon did not care about the uncomfortable harness.  Her new goal was to train to be a bucking bronco.  My, she would shine in the arena.

Yesterday my friend and current student came to school us.  She has a small dairy down the road.  She and her girls came over to milk Elsa and to show us some tricks.  Elsa won.

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My goals (and budget) did not count on our sweet goat to be a pet.  She does not respect us because we spoil her and do not have an upper hand.  Perhaps she would be like the goat we gave to Lauren last year.  That goat wouldn’t have anything to do with us, would sit in the bucket, and try to run off.  She went to her new home and lets Lauren milk her without a stanchion even!  Maybe Elsa just isn’t our goat.

What to do with Elsa Maria?

A Comical Goat Nursery

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My dear friend, Jill, has to move.  She is devastated that she had to give up her goats.  She trusts us to spoil our goats and entrusted us with her “baby”, a large registered Saanen who yesterday gave us a gallon of  milk without kicking or sitting in the bucket.  Oh happy day.  Dear Katrina is on Craigslist.  The Saanen is Elsa’s mother and the two of them will make, not only excellent milkers for our homestead, but very sweet pets as well.

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Jill sold the rest of her goats to our friends, Rob and Amy, who are still waiting to break ground on their house so we were called to babysit until they can move the goats to their property.  Out of Jill’s car jumped a one week old Alpine with the most beautiful markings, a year old Saanen/Alpine mix, and the most adorable four week old Dwarf wether.  He is cute.  He screams like a little girl and gets lost easily.  In the living room.  They also bought our Buttercup, Katrina’s doeling, so all counted, we have seven goats on the back porch, four babies total, with three of them being bottle fed on different schedules.  Their schedules written out on the new chalkboard kitchen door.  Forget Prozac, we have goat kids.  A goat nursery is the number one way to lighten one’s mood.

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Freezing Goat’s Milk

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This has been the year of experimentation.  Our practice farm, we have been calling it.  We have taken on a “let’s see what happens?” attitude.  We were told a few times that this idea wouldn’t work.

Since we don’t have a milking goat (yet), we needed to try to preserve the milk.  We bought two gallons a week of delicious, frothy goat’s milk from our friend.  We drank a gallon a week in the form of chocolate milk; a vice that could not be resolved until a few weeks ago.  (Remember, we were vegan for years until recently.  We are making up for lost time.)  The other gallon we froze.

First we froze them by the half gallon in freezer bags and stacked them in the freezer.  Then I ran out of room for the freezer bags and resorted to freezing them in canning jars and storing them in the freezer door.  Make sure to leave a two inch head space so that the milk can freeze and don’t secure the lid until it has.  After the freezer was filled to capacity with everything I wanted in there, we stopped preserving the milk.  Just as Jill sold her goats.

Earlier in the season we had a sneak peek at what the milk would be like.  A half gallon froze solid in the back of the refrigerator.  When it defrosted, I poured myself a cup and choked down the little coagulated cream pieces that turned more into plastic than butter.  Uh oh, I thought.

But when it was time to pull the milk from the freezer, I simply popped a canning jar of frozen milk into the fridge and let it defrost.  Or, I start defrosting the freezer bags in water and when they are half defrosted (but still icy) I transfer them to a canning jar to store in the fridge.  I shake it well and pour it into Doug’s coffee.  We can use it to make cheese, in recipes, in hot drinks, ’tis fine.  Straight….well I need a milking goat.  And chocolate milk will have to be a seasonal treat!