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Feeding animals

In the wintertime I buy hay from a farm which is couple of kilometers away. Usually the farmer just brings me a big bale of hay with his tractor. But this morning I ran out of hay, mainly because I didn't ask for a new bale early enough. So, I gave the animals what little there was left, took my car and drove to the farm to pick up a small load of dry hay. The dry hay is stored in small bales, about 10 kilograms each, so those I can load and unload by myself. A big bale is about 400 kilograms of hay, which is enough for two weeks.

Today the temperature is about +2°C, turning all the snow to slush. From the village road to my yard it is all uphill, and I had to struggle for half an hour to get back at home. In the slush tyres just lose all of their grip. Shoveling away some slush I managed to drive couple of metres forward until I got stuck again. But slowly I made my way back, with a small load of 100 kilograms of dry hay on a trailer.

From a viewpoint of self-sufficiency keeping animals might not be a very efficient choice. I have a feeling that with sheep it is about even - feeding them takes certain amount of work (and money), and they produce certain amount of meat every year. Using all that working time and money to farming, fishing, foraging and shopping might provide me with more food that I now get slaughtering sheep. But still, rearing sheep has learnt me a lot. And I always felt that if I eat meat, I have to be able to do it myself from the very beginning to all the bloody details of slaughtering. I really don't like the killing part in it, but I want to face the reality, instead of shopping nicely cut meat from a supermarket. So, I keep sheep partly for producing meat, partly for company, and mostly to re-connect with basics of life.

But horses I have purely for company. They are my close friends, and there is no question of getting rid of them just to save money. Before I was doing some work with my black gelding, hauling timber for firewood and such. But two years ago the horse accidentally fell and injured his leg. It took him more than a year to recover from the injury - the doctor couldn't say exactly what it was - and since then I haven't done work with the horse. He seems to be okay with small riding trips, but going uphill still makes his leg sore. So I prefer to keep him alive and well, instead of killing him with work. And the young mare is still in the process of training, and I'm not going to teach her pulling sleigh during this winter. But maybe after a year I will. Let's see how it goes.

Storing fodder for sheep and horses is a sure way to run into problems with mice and rats. But luckily enough my cats are rather efficient in pest control. Ah, and I also have a dog, whom is big and eats a lot of food. She is old and already partly retired. But her main work is to guard my yard, keeping predators and thieves away. Not that I have seen thieves lurking around. But I have found two deer skeletons in the forests next to my yard. And a beast which eats deer surely would like to eat sheep too. One winter, when I didn't have a dog, I saw fresh lynx tracks crossing my yard. But now, with a spanish mastiff around, the lynx prefer to stay away from my yard.

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In regards to how much work it takes to raise the sheep for meat and how you could potentially spend that time else-wise that makes 'more economic sense'. I've done a bunch of farming internships and whatnot, I'm currently in charge of a 100 acres of land that is primarily hay field now with small 100 foot garden (I just started this job so I'll be managing the land a bit more) I'm also taking care of a Goat (pet), 3 sheep, 20+ chickens, 2 rabbits (pet), and 2 mules. In my small experience it is definitely more work, but as you say the benefits are many and not just economical. I once asked an old farmer if he ever wishes he had gone into some other business or worked another job and his response was. "I don't look at the labor and work that I do as a job. It is a way of life, so there is no question as to whether I want to do something else or not, it is how to live." I found that really a good way of thinking about it and have started to use that as my response whenever people find out I want to be a sustainable farmer/teacher, they always say, "Oh man that's a lot of work, and not much money." On another hand, you really can make your way of life quite lucrative (I've worked with a farmer and his partner who made over 300,000 USD gross sales a year doing micro greens in their greenhouses). The long and short of it, I really respect your gaining of said experiences =D Especially the closeness to your food, it is a really enlightening experience to be involved with the death of an animal you eat.


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