Isn’t the idea of self-sufficiency so neat?  Think about it.  With a little extra work to feed animals and clean pens, you can have creamy, wholesome milk, fresh, healthy eggs, beautiful, clean, safe meat, and more to eat.  If you are baking and need an egg, there is no need to run to the store, rather, you just run out to the coop and get one.  You can use your surplus milk to make cheese, yogurt, kefir, and so much more.  Table and garden scraps, surplus eggs, milk, and other dairy products can all be recycled by feeding right back to the animals, increasing their nutrition.  Some surpluses like milk, eggs, and extra critters can be sold to bring in income, which in turn can keep the hubby home from work.  If the animals are raised using natural or organic methods, then prices can fetch a premium.  Male animals can be studded out, all the above can be used for bartering, and the list just goes on and on and on!  It’s a perfect world!

Or not.

You could also have a flock of laying hens that refuse to lay.  You can have a herd of goats and not a single one producing milk.  You could even have a colony of rabbits that don’t reproduce!  Which is exactly where we find ourselves at the moment.  Our layers don’t lay, our rabbits won’t breed, we think most of our bees may have died off, our goats don’t milk, our donkey is getting increasingly cranky in her pregnant state, our livestock guardian pup has hit a phase where she has far more fun chasing the chickens than guarding them, and there is so much snow outside that my work load, and the animals’ feed consumption has doubled. 

Amazing to think that, after 8 months of our new farm life, we have reached the point of…..umm….memorable adventures and purchasing our milk and eggs from friends whose herds and flocks are doing so much better!  No doubt it takes the idea of self-sufficient into a more meaningful and truthful realm of God-sufficient.  Truly, we pray daily right now that God would bless our efforts with production. 

Of course, the goats not milking were my choice.  I had 2, and chose to dry off both simultaneously–Lilac because she was due to kid in 8 weeks, and Sara because she was being bred and I wanted to improve her health.  Then, we bought our other 3, all of which are hopefully bred.  So, we have high hopes that Lilac will soon be supplying us with some delicious milk, as she is due to freshen in just 2 more weeks.  We are holding out faith right now that our other goats will have healthy pregnancies, produce healthy kids and an abundance of milk, and that we will be able to easily sell the surplus goats (Lilac, Sara, and most of the kids) for a price that will help us break even from this year, and possibly put us a bit ahead for next year. 

We have made lots of changes to our layer coop.  We have added artificial lighting to increase their “day” hours, I have increased the protein in their feed, we built a supplement feeder to ensure they are getting all the grit, calcium, and nutrition they could possibly need, and we are even considering insulating the coop somehow.  So far, we are getting 1-3 eggs each day, which, although an improvement over 2 weeks ago, still leaves us short of eggs.   It doesn’t help that one day the light works fine, and the next day something goes wrong and it refuses to turn on.  Nonetheless, we are praying that our layers will increase their laying soon, so they can earn their keep around here.  The good news is that, despite winter being in full throttle, we haven’t lost a single hen to the cold or to the fox.

We have also made a lot of changes to our little rabbitry.  One of our American Chinchilla does proved infertile (I even hired a proven buck to make sure), my buck decided to quit breeding, and my final hope for our AC breeding program, a little doe, up and died this week.  I have no clue why.  So, that’s it for the AC’s–at least until we move to Red Gate.  In the mean time, I was ready to throw in the towel, but S wanted to try again with a new set of rabbits.  I managed to buy out someone else’s rabbitry since they were moving.  We got a pile of crossbred Harlequin and Rhinelanders.  Although smaller than the AC’s, they are acclimated to our altitude and environment, seem to be very hardy and prolific around here, and the cross adds a good bit of hybrid vigor.  The smaller size will be better for JR to handle them.  We got a few too many (intentionally), including a mother/daughters set that get along really well, with which we are hoping to start our colony run soon.  So, as soon as we clear some space by harvesting a couple of excess rabbits, we are praying that our new rabbits will do the rabbit thing and start procreating. 

Athena is experiencing some big changes.  I have intensified her training quite a bit.  I had to take her to the vet for her rabies and distemper shot recently, where she proved to be 54 lbs at just 5 months old!!  She is growing so quickly, and becoming so independent, I decided it was time to introduce some basics.  We are working on not chasing chickens or chewing goat tails, walking on a leash, sitting, and coming when called.  We have also allowed her in the house a couple times just to expose her to something different.  In addition, I have been socializing her a bit, as she was starting to bark at any person that came around–even if we were with them, which we don’t want.  We are having to make changes to her diet as well.  As much as we love the BARF diet, she is currently eating around 5 lbs of meat each day, in addition to occasional bones, grains, fruits, veggies, eggs, and other raw foods.  And she is still on the lean side.  After we were blessed with an entire flock of chickens that S spent a total of 8 hours butchering, and will soon do a couple rabbits, all to feed the dog for about 2 weeks, we realized it is no longer sustainable.  Had she been a chihuahua, that would be one thing, but we can’t afford the time involved in keeping such a massive and fast-growing pup fed this way.  So, we are backing off.  In the hopes of being able to try again in the future, we are simply cutting her BARF diet in half.  She will get one meal of all-natural kibble each day, and the other will be some sort of raw food like she is accustomed to.  This will hopefully keep her system functioning well, and keep her healthy, but allow us to back off on the amount of meat we have to collect just for her. 

Finally, we aren’t sure what’s going on with our bees.  After almost 2 months, we finally had a day recently when the temps crept over 50* out, which meant the bees could come out of their hives.  I only saw activity around one hive though.  I fear the other 2 may not have survived the transition.  In the mean time, S has been doing a lot of research.  We fear we may have been sold hives that had some known problems (which explains the great deal we got!), so he has been researching what to do about it.  We are hoping to use some natural, chemical free methods that have been proven in several other countries to essentially sterilize all the empty hives, and then start fresh with new, clean trays for the bees to build on.  Once the bees wake up from their winter dormancy, and the pollen starts flowing, we hope to transplant the surviving bees into the sterilized hives, and then sterilize their old hives as well.  We figure it can’t hurt to try. 

Needless to say, we are holding out hope that this is just one of those dry slumps you hear about, and that, God willing, the new year will bring with it a great deal of production and success on our little farm.  I have to tell you, though, we are learning to trust and rely on God through all this.  Despite the slump in our own farm production, God has provided, and we haven’t had to inrease our trips to the grocery store at all.  We always seem to have a friend with surpus eggs or goat milk just when we needed it.  We have had goats, rabbits, and chickens donated to us almost as fast as we could take them.  Not once have we had any shortage of meat, and just when I start rationing the milk and eggs, it seems I encounter one of our friends with a surplus.  We have even had an offer to supply us with an entire batch of Araucana peepers in the spring, so we won’t have to buy any, and we will have some fresh ones to raise to replace our older and lazy layers next fall.  It’s a great reminder that we should never be discouraged, and that God will always provide for our needs!!