We cut the ties with the grid in the summer. There’s been a lot of opportunity for learning since then. What I have found most gratifying is that I’ve become more aware of what’s happening out there everyday; I simply pay more attention! At first, I got glum about cloudy days, like having the generator run was some sort of failure on my part. But now I am just more accepting and embracing of what the sun is offering. We could have more batteries in our bank to try to store up more solar power for cloudy days, but I have come to believe that our system is sized well, and that when the generator needs to run–as it has a couple of hours daily during the recent cloudy spell here in December–it isn’t using a whole lot of LP to charge up the batteries. And, of course, we adjust our activities to the sun. On a cloudy day, I sweep. On a sunny day, I vacuum and wash clothes. The needs of our animals predominate. If it’s a cloudy day and Craig needs to plug in the tractor to be able to feed hay, he’s going to do it. We were fearful that the tractor heater would put too much of a demand on the solar but it’s no more than running the well pump, which is a steady need for providing water to the sheep and cattle.
A friend asked me, “Why did you go off-grid rather than grid-tied? Isn’t there an anti-social element in that?” I have to admit that my decision to leave the grid (even though the cost was perhaps double what a grid-tied system would have cost) was a gut-type decision. I simply wanted this farm to run on our own solar-supplied sun power. Some folks have asked me about “payback period” and my answer is that the payback is the gratification that I feel during my lifetime and in what I am leaving for my children.
So, besides the solar, it was a good year here on the farm. Lambs came early (they started coming out on the snow while I was in Seattle in February–bless you, Craig!) because of some escapee Icelandic ram lambs late last summer, and calves came late, because our beloved bull Fuzzy Bear lost his virility and we had to call in a replacement bull. But it all works out. We had enough lamb to supply our direct customers and the fantastic (can’t say enough good about this place!) Driftless Cafe, and even though our beef customers were limited to a 1/4, we had beef for all of them. We didn’t have enough meat to justify going to the Farmers Market full-time and had to quit providing lamb to the local coop, but that’s just the way it had to be. The goal on this farm is to produce as much as the land–the sun?–provides.
2014 also brought the goat and chicken presence into play more noticeably here on the farm. The chickens have been with us quite a while but the flock grew as our egg consumption declined so in 2014 I developed an egg market in Viroqua. Now I make enough from egg sales to pay for our own eggs, and to feed Henry’s emu, Ollie, and the six ducks I’ve acquired. Maybe the ducks will provide eggs to sell, but until then it’s just because I love ducks. Good thing only one of the four does bred because goat milking takes some getting used to. Troubles, the doe who freshened in April, provided me and Craig with yoghurt and chevre for many months, along with fresh milk for a child who can’t drink cow’s milk, and one kid went to the conventional market in Fenimore and one’s in the freezer (curried goat shanks for tomorrow night’s supper). Next year, maybe four goats wil freshen; that will be a new chapter!
Another positive 2014 development was that I found a fantastic tannery for our lambskins. Bucks County Fur Products in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. They do a great job. As far as other woolly things, I thought, for a brief time, that I might want to get out of raising wool sheep because it was hard to find a good shearer and I just couldn’t keep up with burdock control on the pastures, but I’ve decided that if I take it slow enough I can shear my own darn wool sheep and also, taking it slow enough, control the burdock. I just can’t give up having wool sheep.
It was a good year. Craig never seems to waiver in his ability/stamina to do the big stuff (making sure we have enough wood, growing lots of vegetables for us, feeding the critters hay and dealing with waterers that freeze when the temps get too low) but I’m a bit wimpier. My winter chores are taking care of the poultry, milking the goat and giving grain to lambs and calves. It got icey in November and I found myself floundering about and clinging to fences as I went about my chores. Then I bought some clamp-on ice grips for my boots (Nelson Agri-Center in Viroqua) and now I can go out on any surface and do my chores.I really recommend these things. Buy the “professional” type that has a strap that goes over your boot.
Life is good. Thank you to all who buy my beef, lamb, and wool products! Happy New Year to all my farm friends! I find that many people are interested in our solar and think that it would be fun to have a solar open house sometime. Maybe in late February? Let me know if you would be interested in coming out for a visit then.