Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Winter is our time to refresh. During the rest of the year, we are constantly engaged outside with projects, gardening, and animal care. Winter is a special time; a period when no excuse is needed to curl up with a book near a dancing fire. Life becomes more home focused, rather than farm focused. School, baking, and crafts constitute our daily work, while farm chores require little more than trudging out to the barn a couple times a day to check food and water. I treasure the simplicity and solitude that falls on our home with the snow.
Caring for Livestock in Winter
Currently, our farm livestock mainly consists of goats and poultry, which do not require much work in the wintertime. Our three dairy goats are dry, so there is no milking to be done until the next batch of kids are born in April. Meanwhile, we simply give them extra hay and oats, kick the ice out of their water buckets, and lay down lots of fresh straw. We use a deep bedding technique, which provides extra heat and comfort during the cold nights. Instead of completely mucking out the stalls each week, new bedding is laid down on top of the old. The decomposing manure underneath provides warmth and also produces the perfect compost for spring gardening, while the fresh straw on top keeps the animals clean and dry. Occasionally, we turn on a heat lamp if the temperature drops much below zero, but that is rare. As long as they are well fed and dry, our goats and chickens are happy.
Heating With a Woodstove
Our house is heated solely by a wood stove. When I first agreed to forego our electric heat, I was worried about what that would look like in the dead of winter. It was quite a foreboding picture that came to mind: our entire family sleeping in hats and scarves, stoking feeble coals all night long in a weary attempt to keep pipes and children from freezing. However, I was pleasantly surprised—we did not wake up with frostbitten noses! In fact, our house is now warmer than when heated with conventional methods. Our house is small and well insulated, and the wood stove keeps it comfortably in the low to mid 70s. We get all of our wood from the dead trees around our property, so it costs nothing but the sweat off our back to operate. Well, more like the sweat off the back of my husband, to be precise. Regardless, nothing beats cozying up to a blazing stove after dark while a pot of chili simmers on top for the evening meal.
One of my favorite things about winter is the chance to catch up on things I neglect throughout the rest of the year. I pull a neglected literature book off a dusty shelf, or I research homesteading books online and put in an order. Reading is a favorite pastime that I cannot seem to find much time for the rest of the year. Another excellent use of down time is learning a new craft. Last winter I tried my hand at wood carving, and this year I am determined to learn how to crochet. My daughter and I are often found in the living room, hooks working in time with bluegrass music on the radio. Cultivating artistic talents is something that easily gets shoved aside, but it is important when working on a homestead. Items handcrafted with love and care add life to our farm; they revive our tired souls both while we create them and, later, when looked upon and used.
While I previously thought of winter as a dead period spent waiting for spring, my perspective has changed over the years. Instead of a few dreary months to survive, it has become a welcome period of physical refreshment and mental reinvigoration. It is a time to cultivate skills that will benefit our family during the active months to come. Yes, it is a time of waiting — waiting for the sun to shine once more, waiting for the orchard to bloom and kids to be born and gardens to be planted. Waiting by the fire with a mug full of coffee and a lap full of yarn. Waiting on the warm side of a frosted window as snowflakes christen dormant trees. Waiting on a couch full of children holding books that are waiting to be read. As I wait, I start to realize that the waiting is full of life, and it just might be the best part.