Our first year at mill close attempting to become more self-sufficient has been a roller-coaster of amazing learning experiences. While there were definitely setbacks, I have absolutely no regrets about attempting to become more self-sufficient and trying so many new things. We definitely had success with our hens in the wood and in doing so we are also able to save more than 60 ex battery hens and give them a happy free-range retirement. They have already paid back more than their running costs in eggs.
The 3 pigs we started with Which were supposed to be a breeding pair and an additional female turned out to be less than we had hoped all 3 showing signs of extreme older old age and not a piglet in sight. My wife and I eventually had to have them put down humanely as one of them couldn’t even stand up alone after less than a year here.
We had a period of 2 weeks when we lost my favorite milking goat 3 pigs to old age and 15 hens to a Fox strike. That was a difficult time.
But we’ve come out the back of that and are going into our second year with some weaner pigs in the wood one very productive milking goat and 2 flocks of highly productive hens.
I have found Saint George’s mushrooms in the food forest; I have made wild garlic and Walnut pesto from foraged ingredients and have had a vegetable garden that is exceeded my wildest expectations. Against the backdrop of incredible successes, we have also had a flood in the house, escaped animals and the difficult challenge of balancing a full-time job with maintaining our dream here.
I definitely feel that we have achieved several milestones that only needed doing once. For instance, the 2 paddocks are 80% fenced so the huge job of fencing them is replaced by a much smaller job of maintaining them. The overgrown area at the North of the Meadow has been cultivated and turned into a vegetable plot which I believe will be enough to feed the family with a bit spare. The duck ponds are dug and inhabited and the main part of the planting for the food forest is also complete.
There were definitely times when maintaining the gardens and keeping up with the lawn mowing hedge trimming, wedding, animal feeding, children raising and having a full-time job was almost more than we could manage. But as things slow down now in September, with the weeds starting to feel sleepy ready for the winter and the nights drawing in meaning the animals get bedded down earlier, I am already excitedly planning my vegetable garden for the next year.
I’ve certainly learnt from many mistakes. For instance, the value of electric fencing with a solar charger has kept are
chickens and ducks safe since the bloodbath of the first six months, and I feel this is something I can manage much better in the future than in the past. The importance of correctly labeling and maintaining the labels of seedlings is something I vastly under estimated and the absence of doing so I hold responsible for significantly diminished returns from the garden.
In this last year I have learned to make cheese, milk goats, build and use a compost loo, as well as thousands of small lessons on raising animals and plants. I have also tapped my first tree. In doing all these exciting and testing things with my family I also feel I have shared some really special times with my children and wife which I cannot put a price on.
I am already extremely excited about what year 2 will bring.