Good Stewardship

Stewardship. What does it mean? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary it means “the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something”. Lets see it in full;

1:  the office, duties, and obligations of a steward
2:  the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially :  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

I see so much waste in this world, but what is really bad is that it is the people, the individuals that control it. When we teach our children that things come freely and we don’t teach them that only eating half a banana is wasteful we set the stage for them to not care for bigger things, like bikes, cars, or even people. At the schools children throw away half their food. Huge trash cans full of food that has had maybe one bite taken are thrown away every day. How many times do you see a bike laying on its side in a driveway, no child present? How many people value what they have so little that they don’t bother to clean what they have or make repairs or simply put something away so it doesn’t get damaged? Do you eat leftovers? Or do you throw them in the trash can because you don’t like the taste of re-heated food? Do you constantly acquire more of things, animals, etc. yet not give what you already have the very best?

I see everything we have as being a gift. A gift that I am charged with stewardship of. Sometimes I am not a good steward. My van needs cleaning right now, very badly. To keep it from rusting it needs a good coat of wax and the paint should be kept clear of debris. It doesn’t matter that it is old and half the stuff on it doesn’t work; it runs and I don’t want it to deteriorate further. Today is nice and I need to clean it so that I have it in good condition for years to come. We only have so much time, money and energy in a day, week, month, year, and lifetime. Valuing what we already have and not acquiring more unless it is truly needed and we can care for it properly means that we can keep what we have better. It makes us good stewards of the things we have, and teaches our children how to value time, money, and things if we model it and train them.

How do we become good stewards when we haven’t been taught? That is simple; we make our mindset different. We look at everything as a treasure, from a simple piece of food to money in the bank. We don’t take for granted that these things will be available at our whim. We look around us in our homes and see what we have and what we are neglecting. Then we set about keeping only that which we can maintain. We find a way to use what we have rather than throw it out, and instead of collecting so much we can’t store it we select for the best and what is most useful, and then we care for it.

How do we teach our children to be good stewards? We teach them about budgeting. We teach them to save and not to always want something new. We avoid giving them much for free so that they value each thing they have. That little plastic toy that one child leaves on the floor because he didn’t have to work for it means a great deal if the child had to cut the grass, do dishes for a month, or rake the yard to earn the money to buy it. The child that worked hard will put the toy safely on a shelf so it doesn’t get broken. He will be a good steward of the toy. And… if the toy is a poor purchase and breaks even with careful handling that same child will become wiser the next time he makes a purchase and save for something of better quality before spending his hard-earned money. When a child has to clean an animal pen, or work in the garden pulling weeds so that he has food to eat, he learns that each thing he eats is valuable. Even if food is just money in your home, having a child earn the money for special food like candy will give them a different perspective. Recently my 8 year old was at the table enjoying a big bowl of bean soup, a regular meal in our home as it is very nutritious and cost effective. He commented on how thankful he was for that bowl of beans and how good it was to have a hot meal that filled his belly. He thanked his father for working so hard so we could buy the beans, and he thanked me for taking the time to cook them amid all the other work I had to do that day on the farm. It made my heart glad that he is beginning to realize the value in everything we have, and to see him begin to treasure even a bowl-full of beans. I challenge you to look around you today and evaluate whether you are a good steward of what you have.


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Swamp Rats

I went out to milk this evening, though it felt a lot like a chore. It was dark, damp and cold. Even my light hardly penetrated the night. I get to the barn and start the chores. Even the goats did not want to come out in the wet. All of a sudden, over a door, I saw a flutter of something! It happened again; 5 little fingers looped over the stall door, fingers that quickly disappeared when I called out I saw them. A giggle and stealthy movement reached my ears, and into the barn lunged a shadow, hiding quickly between bales of hay. I continued my chores and the “shadow” ran out, touched a goat, and took off into the dark with a laugh. The boys were obviously inventing a game of “touch the goat without Mom seeing you” :-)  It made me smile.

As I went up to the house after chores I called to the boys to come inside for bed, and a light flashed in the swamp, went out, and some rustles. Another flash of light. Silence. I call again and say I am locking the door and my swamp rats had better be inside and I saw the lights come on and the boys made their way out of the swamp. They had enjoyed their adventure a great deal, and I enjoyed seeing it. It all made me think of a blog post I saw on Facebook today about how we raise our children in the United States that is actually not so good. It talked about how in other countries young children play more in school, use sharp tools at very young ages, are responsible for walking distances to school or running to market for food. And that, in these countries, children have fewer accidents in all and are more able to cope and succeed. So, while my heart flutters a bit at the thought of my kids in the swamp at night, and while I know some will tell me I should be holding a tighter reign, I also feel proud of how my boys not only enjoyed a game they made up  but that they made it out of that  swamp in the dark without any muck on them. Pretty cool, eh? And if you want to read the blog, here it is :-)

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It Is February!

Antique Snowdrops

It is finally February my friends! Do you know what that means?! It means spring is right around the corner! After February comes March, and in March…. well, in March everything takes off :-D I am so excited to be here and living a good life, to be welcoming another spring after a refreshing and cold winter. Yes, even in the south it got cold this year! We had a second January snow storm that dumped half a foot of snow that only finished melting today. January was a month of hauling buckets of warm water to the livestock and trying to keep my feet off cold floors designed for the warmer southern summer more than near zero temps. I am very thankful not to have gotten the Alaskan cold that many in the northern states were blessed with this winter (thanks, Alaska! *grin*).

Today is February 2nd. It got up to about 60-degrees F today, and rained most of the morning. That didn’t bother me too much, I took things slow and enjoyed a pot of coffee and a couple of cookies. Then I went out to see the yelling goats. The chickens and pigs were really enjoying the soft ground, and I love the way the back end of the pasture is all turned up and brown from the rooting of the pigs. It is nearly ready for the first round of seed, and then I can move the pigs to another spot to do a little more work. On my counter I have flats full of dirt and seed I started today. I planted some herbs that I desperately want to have growing well here, wormwood, hyssop, echinacea, and yarrow (which we have growing, but I had the seed and so I planted it), and in the fridge is comfrey chilling for 30 days.

In the garage are 12 ducklings, all growing quickly and ready to be moved to another brooder with more ground and less work for me. Another brooder is ready for the chicks that arrive this week, and plans are in the works to get the quack shack finished and ready for its charges. We trimmed some shrubs around the house and laid them out to help hold soil in the swamp and keep water from flooding the poultry area. And we pulled out the scrawny pink lady hawthorns from the bee area and re-set them in the swamp land. We want to put in something edible by the bees that will also help make honey. As soon as it gets dry enough I have to finish tilling the garden areas as well! I feel like I am chafing at the bit since there is so much to do, but the earth is not quite ready to let me. It is good, this readiness to work. It means I had a good rest this winter!

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Snow and Coffee

I am sitting inside with a cup of steaming coffee flavored with raw honey from my friends bees and some cream from our goats. Outside my window I see freshly fallen snow and light flakes coming down, just a little here and there. The birds seem excited… I watch them flit from branch to branch and chase each other around more than usual. It is beautiful, and something I miss most years here in the southern coastal range. The peaceful beauty of it just made me pause and enjoy, no pictures, just me. The only thing better would be to have a friend sitting with me.

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Why I Sleep In the Barn

Ammi and Her Baby

Ammi and Her Baby

Its kidding time. Udders are bulging, stuff is coming out of behinds, mommas are fighting trying to gain a better position in the herd for their coming babies. As the farmer this means long nights in the barn, sometimes days as well. Nerves run high and tight; we have a lot of hopes riding on the babies born. We hope everything goes well and we have to do nothing at all, yet we are there waiting because sometimes something does go wrong. In the meantime, we are getting hit verbally from people that think in nature everything is good and humans should butt out and all will be fine. Those people anger me, they generally don’t have any livestock or major investment in animals. They have not experienced a doe that is so exhausted she lays down to die because her babies are tangled or twisted and no one is helping her. They have not gone out on a cold morning to find dead babies scattered on the ground half cleaned and a doe shaking from shock or ketosis. They have not seen the doe that knows she needs help and walks up to the farmer and ask, “please, help me! I can’t do any more!”. They have not seen a doe with a retained kid getting sick from infection from that decaying kid inside her body. Nature is not kind. It is survival of the fittest and chance. We try to breed for the best chance of health and vigor and survival in our domestic livestock, but we also can’t risk unnecessary loss. So, here we are freezing our fingers and toes, worrying and hoping all goes well. And when it doesn’t… we are there to help.

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Beginners Guide to Buying And Selling Registered Goats

Here it is, the definitive guide to buying and selling registered goats. Or, in many cases, registrable. Well, maybe not definitive, but this should at least be helpful. There are some basic things you need to know if you want to get into registered livestock, and dairy goats are no exception. I am not familiar with meat goat registries so I won’t delve into them, but I am very familiar with registries for dairy goats. In general, all the registries are similar. You send in a fee and the paperwork and in a couple of weeks you get a piece or paper saying your goat is now registered to you. It seems pretty simple, and it is, but there are a few things people often forget that can give innumerable headaches. This “guide” will tell you what they are and how to avoid them.

The main dairy goat registries in the USA are the American Goat Society (AGS) and the American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA). Mini-breeds are becoming increasingly popular, and for them you have the Miniature Dairy Goat Association (MDGA), and there are often others the pop up for specific breeds of mini, such as the Mini Saanen/Sable Association. There are some devoted entirely to one breed, in particular the Nigerian Dwarf Goat Association  (NDGA) and the American Nigerian Dwarf Dairy Association (ANDDA). Most of the time you will be dealing with AGS or ADGA for the goats you buy or sell as they cover all the purebred goats in the USA. The only time you really need the others is if you breed mini’s of a standard breed or just want to be involved with your preferred breed through a devoted association.

When you buy or sell a goat that is, or can be, registered, there should always be paperwork involved and it should be completed at the time of the transaction. If it is not, run away as fast as you can and don’t look back! Any responsible breeder should provide these basic items for each registry you can register the goat with;

  • copies of dam and sires registration papers
  • registration paper for the goat in question (AGS)  (ADGA)
  • transfer of owner/bill of sale paper (AGS)  (ADGA)
  • breeding memo/service memo for a bred doe  (AGS)  (ADGA)
  • receipt of purchase showing what you bought/sold and the price paid

If, at the time of purchase these things are not made available, do NOT buy the animal! I can’t tell you how many times I or people I know have been burned by breeders that did not provide these items or did not fill them out correctly. Once that animal leaves the farm and the breeder has your money you will be hard-pressed to get that paperwork in a timely manner, if at all. It will often take constant bugging, court costs, hurt feelings and bad reputations to get what you want, or you suck it up and take a loss and call it a learning experience.  If you have paid a deposit, demand it be returned if they will not give you the paperwork you need to register the animal and walk away, or even forfeit the deposit so you are not out even more money.

If you buy or sell a bred doe or breed a doe after sale, be sure the date of breeding is correct and have the paper for the breeding at the time of sale. It is not acceptable for a breeder to tell a buyer that they will provide the breeding memo AFTER kids are born. You will never get that breeding memo or the dates will be wrong, or the breeder will have sold the buck and not have be able to get the information needed any longer. Just simply have the paper at time of sale. Note that if you buy a doe and ask the breeder to breed her for you so you can have the use of the buck there but use your own herd name, if the date of sale is not prior to the date of breeding you cannot use your herd name and the breeder would have to fill out all the registration paperwork for any babies resulting from that breeding.

A responsible breeder will have all of this for you and show you where to send your paperwork, where to sign it, and explain what each is for and what needs to be done. In my own case, I usually even include an envelope for each registry and staple the papers together with everything that needs to go to each registry so there are no mistakes by beginners. Yes, breeders can make a mistake, but they should correct it promptly and not make you wait months or years.  Be a responsible buyer and seller; make sure you know ahead of time what you need when you buy a goat, and make sure if you are selling one to pretend you are registering that goat and make sure all the needed documents are provided. It makes everyone much happier.


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The Homestead Budget; Projects

I am singin’ the blues along with my friends. At night, we look toward the moon and howl our woes. For on the farm there never seems to be enough to do everything we see needs done. The storms knock down a fence or blow over a shed. Your prize animal gets sick and you incur a sudden vet bill. The garden fails to produce enough with the drought and you have to buy your food from the store when you are not accustomed to it. You, the farmer, gets ill and has to hire someone to care for the farm or sell at least the animals off. You are starting out and want to add some goats and cow to your chickens, and oh, those pigs sound lovely, but the fences have to be put in and shelter built, and don’t forget the food! You know what I mean. There is seldom enough to go around and it can be discouraging as most of us are hard workers and not being able to do more, build more, care for more can make us crazy, especially since we have such lovely dreams. However, these limitations actually help us succeed if we take advantage of them.

First, and probably hardest of all, you have to make yourself do one thing at a time and get really good at it, make it so easy and finished that you have the time and money to work on something new. There is nothing worse that watching your garden fail, your birds die, and to have money go down the drain because you half-a** everything at once. It is far better to start with just one thing, put the time and money into getting it right, and when it is successful move on to something else while maintaining the other. It makes you feel so good!

Second, if you don’t already, start a budget based on farming. Plan your project and what it will cost. Decide if you can work in steps or if you need all the supplies at once, then save up for each step or the whole project. It is awful to get only half a barn done and then let it sit and rot because you didn’t have enough money for shingles. Make sure to reserve some money for things you forgot or mess up. Debt is not cool in farming. Never go into debt for the projects on the farm. Never. Farming does not increase property value at all! A good barn sort-of might, but not enough to cover interest. Just don’t do it. The “savings” you will get by spending a ton of money you don’t have will leave you very hungry, especially when something bad happens, and you can pretty much bet you will have a bad garden year, a bad loss in your chicken flock at some point, a sick goat, a bad storm that ruins something and sets you back. You can recover from these things pretty easily if you are not in debt for them to start with.

Third, finish a project and don’t buy stuff to start another until you have the first done. It is easy to say you will get to something next week and will then be able to start the next thing, go out and get supplies, and then have them sit around until they are stolen or rot or rust waiting for you. Enjoy the fact you have one thing done and then go get the supplies to start the next. It will save you a lot of grief and stress, and if married your spouse will be thankful you are so good at planning and doing, not just talking and spending.

Last, write these down in big, bold letters and pin it somewhere that you can see every day (they are all my own “sayings” that I remind myself of each and every day and try really, really hard to live by!);
“Farm smarter, not harder.”
“Plan it out, or do without.”
“Save for it, pay for it, finish it!”

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