Friday, March 5, 2010

Now What?

I'm still fixating on raising animals - but I think I'm a bit too scared to actually commit and jump in. There's a lot of upfront cost and work. I've been researching a new animal each day. Today I looked into geese. If it weren't for the fact that people don't really eat goose much it would be perfect. Eggs, down, feathers, quality meat, and really good foragers - plus low rates of disease and good at defending themselves. Kind of sounds too good to be true - which it is, seeing as people seem to think that goose is only good eating for Christmas.

The biggest hurdle to cross for me in starting a small-scale, backyard animal operation is going it alone. Animals, unlike vegetables, require constant vigilance. They require daily human attention, and the infrastructure can be pretty high, depending on the animal (though geese, chickens, and rabbits would only be a little more than putting in a new vegetable garden). Fencing is the most daunting part of the infrastructure. I'd build a little animal house any day, but banging in fence posts in rocky soil is up there on my list of things I really hate doing. Though my landlord wants to fence in the 5 acres behind the orchard anyway, so why not?

It's very conflicting. On the one hand, I want to live in line with my values, and i want to do the things which make me happy. On the other hand, I really don't want to overdo it. I want to be able to go to sleep at night without rattling off everything I have to do until the inside of my head tics like a clock. But I don't want to feel contented and blase in doing very little to move towards my goals - which is how I'm living right now (or at least, it feels like that). Okay, I admit, I've always been an overachiever. I've always started way too many projects, and been in a rush to do it all. I've also always left plenty new tasks undone. It's a pattern of mine, so I'm cautious about taking on anything new - even though I'm less stressed than I have been ever before. And yet, I know I can easily get stuck in this place.

I don't want to become exhausted, over-worked, or resentful. I don't want to fail miserably by taking on too much, or by taking on projects that aren't well suited for me. I want time to sit in my living room and daydream. And to be honest - I want to play second fiddle sometimes. Being the only person around to clean the house, cook food, start seeds, motivate myself, and tell myself to take a break gets very hum-drum. I'm generally stronger, braver, and more productive when I work alone, but it's tiring to always have to be the brave, motivational one. And that's what I feel most strongly with the animal question. I want to do it with someone - someone I trust and someone with whom I'm on equal footing. I want someone to share the responsibilities, the risk, and the blessings with me.

That's one of the reasons that makes me feel strongest about putting off getting animals for at least another year or so. hopefully by next spring there'll be someone to raise animals with. This year I could easily content myself with helping out my friends at Awesome Farm - which doesn't address that I want extra income, but it'll at least give me some experience - which I know I need. My landlords have their own little farm stand that they've offered me selling space on, and I could easily get some friends to sell home-made products for me if it came down to it - I don't have to focus on animals.

As all the reasoning piles up I still wonder if I'm reasoning myself out of committing myself to something that would be meaningful, important, and exciting out of fear and temerity. It's a strange line to walk - and I can't tell which side of it I'm on.

I don't know. It somehow ties in with how this article about the trade-off of back-to-the-land'ing has been on my mind. I don't find radical all-out homesteading to be terribly appealing, and I don't particularly want to put myself on that road, except I'm not even close to being an all-out homesteader. In fact - I'm farther than I'd like to be. but i want those skills. And i want to know how to make do. I just don't know when and how it makes sense to escalate my commitment to all of this.

I've been gardening for 4 years now. I still love it, but I want more, and I want to see myself moving in the right direction - which includes making some extra money and gaining more land-based skills - and animals seem to be a way to marry the two. It's not like I'd be making much money - but if I started small, I could at least break even, given a good business plan. It's not like I'm looking at buying a flock of 250 birds, or 100 rabbits. I'm thinking more on the order of 10-20 animals for sale at the end of the season, plus a small breeding stock. Enough to cover the costs of putting some of the meat on my own table and maybe to cover one of my minor expenses - like heat - for next year. That would make it plenty worth it.

I just don't know.

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