Minimalism in Farming

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The idea of not having a bunch of useless people, things, animals or emotions loafing around goes by lots of names, depending on who you ask. Minimalism, thriftiness, bare essentials, resourcefulness, simplicity…whatever. The common thread is that life thrives on purpose. Anything or anyone that doesn’t have a purpose will flounder.

I desire simplicity in my life even more than I wish to break free of my granny panties and go back to my pre-baby body. Whether its stuff, humans or animals, everything in my life needs to serve a purpose or I start feeling super discombobulated.

I love animals. I’ve been hopelessly infatuated since I was a little kid. One might say I’m an animal hoarder, but to my credit, they all have a job to do and a reason why they’re here. None hang around day after day pooping in sand-filled boxes and licking themselves to oblivion without performing some service.

There are a few around here who are questionable – some ducks and geese (I plan on eating their eggs when they start laying) – you might argue that our horses and potbelly pig are a draw on the resources with little return. But. (picture my husband rolling his eyes here) My kids ride almost every day which is exercise and they’re learning valuable lessons in being responsible while caring for their horses and besides, horse poo is like black gold for the garden. I say it’s a win win. Besides, when the Zombie Apocalypse hits, we’ll have a way to get around that doesn’t require fuel. And hey, the Vietnamese eat potbelly pigs – I guess we could eat Petunia if we had to. (Don’t tell my pig-loving 9 year old)

Here’s a little list of our animals and the purposes they serve:

Chickens – Some days, their antic alone are worth their keep. Ever watch the movie Chicken Run? That’s how we roll here. They produce eggs, meat and eat up kitchen scraps. They scratch, turn and cultivate our compost and break down other animals’ poo poo while eating the worms and larvae that hide out there. I have been astonished by the virtual disappearance of insects of all kinds in our barnyard. Chickens lower the fly population to amazing levels. You can put a pen full of chickens over a garden spot or flower bed and in a few days, you have a fertilized and prepared area to start planting. No back breaking hoeing required. And they shoot one of nature’s most perfect foods out of their rears on a daily basis.

Ducks and Geese
– the jury is still out on our water fowl herd. They do a good job of eating scraps and will eventually lay eggs for us. Seeing a flock of birds run squawking across the pasture at 6:30 in the morning is kind of fun. Time will tell whether these guys will be permanent fixtures on our farm or Thanksgiving dinner.

Pigs – Fun fact – some pigs smell like maple syrup. Ours do, and that’s kind of fun, too. Pigs are the most incredible trash compactors you’ve ever seen. They will literally eat anything and in return manufacture bacon. That right there is reason enough to keep the little pancakes around, but they also do lots of other things. Put a portable electric fence around your garden any time it needs to be tilled or fertilized – boom – it’s done in a few days.

Pigs can till like no tractor you’ve ever seen, will eat all the grass and roots, deposit black gold in their wake and smell like waffles while working. I’m sold. They will also clear a brushy, brambly forest in no time. Since having pigs and chickens on our place, we’ve not wasted one morsel of food. Waste not, want not when you have bacon makers.

We have a set of breeding heirloom Hampshire pigs. They provide our feeder pigs for the year as well as produce babies to sell – this subsidizes their food costs and our feeders as well. They pay for themselves and work happily day after day. I love pigs.

Goats – We currently raise pygmy goats. We have plans to get Nubian milk goats soon, but so far the pygmies have made themselves a staple on our farm. They basically roam around all day and clear our fence lines and around trees meticulously. They have babies which we sell the males and this subsidizes the goats’ feed costs. (which is nearly nothing because they eat brush, mostly) It always floats in the back of my mind that we could eat and/or milk them if we wanted/needed to. Ever seen a baby goat do a double back-flip off its mother’s back? Entertainment value alone sells goats in my mind.

Dogs – Dogs serve several purposes at our place. We raise dogs to sell as pets as well as provide dog boarding and training. It’s how I stay at home and make money. We have two boxers that serve as guard dogs and a Great Pyrenees who serves as a livestock guardian. We have one little Fru Fru dog that I threaten with banishment on a regular basis, but to his credit, he is an excellent puppy trainer. He teaches potty and crate training in a way that a human never could. I guess I’ll let the little turd hang around for now.

Cats – I’ll be honest that I’ve never been a huge fan of cats. Something that leisurely sleeps all day and licks its nether-regions to oblivion is not my ideal pet. That is until we moved to the sticks and realized that rats and mice will revolt and overtake you at their first opportunity. So we got a couple of free cats of sturdy, barncat lineage, got them spayed and set them to work. They are the best mousers I’ve ever seen. They even kill the moles that dig up our pasture even though they don’t like to eat them. They triumphantly deposit the little paddle-footed bandits on our porch with an air of royalty and ask for nothing but a rub here and there in return. I tolerate their licking habits because of this.

I’ve been able to carve out a little minimalism in my farming habit and it satisfies both the animal lover and the lover of simplicity that reside in my crowded little noggin. Being able to reduce my carbon footprint by producing my own food and enjoying stewardship over the land and animals given to me has been one of my biggest goals and joys in life so far.

Have you ever had the itch to farm? Do you raise any type of animals? In this day and age with our food system flawed and poisoned as it is, it may be a good idea to think of the ways you can change the way you get your food. What can you do for yourself? What are you capable of doing at home?

  • Gardening – containers, raised beds or traditional tillage
  • Raising chickens – more and more cities are changing their rules to allow for backyard chickens
  • Raising any other type of meat or milk animal
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