Happenings on the Homestead
Sylvan Wind Homestead Blog
I’ve heard it said that somewhere between your second and fifth years in agriculture, you’ll have a make or break “moment”. That point where you either continue to push through or you throw in the towel. This year has been “that moment” for me. I was so driven to market and grow Sylvan Wind as an “actual” business in 2019. What began as a drive toward self-sufficiency became a need to turn more profit. To become bigger. To broaden my horizons (and pocketbook). But, it became work. It was miserable. It was no longer my happy place. It was failing.
This post has been circulating in my mind since I, in complete irritation and utter disgust, ripped my vegetable garden out mid-July – far too early for our normal season. This season was a ridiculous flop thanks, in part, to unrelenting rains early season, followed by a lack of personal motivation as it progressed. In reality, only my cucumbers did well. My tomatoes and peppers all became stunted on the plants. Perennials added for pollination and cutting gardens this spring died off. Herbs bolted early and often. We harvested very few strawberries and there are more weeds growing than anything else.
But wait! There’s more! (Typed in my very best infomercial voice).
It wasn’t all in the gardens. We only made it to a single farmers market this year. Only a few batches of jam have been made. Not a single loaf of bread has been baked. The last batches of pickles were unsuccessful, for one reason or another. We battled hoof and weight issues in the horses. The chicken coop remained a muddy disaster for most of the season. I’ve only bottled a few batches of kombucha. We’re behind schedule on pasture rotation and vaccinations for the goats. And, Lord, the flies this year!!! It’s just been one thing after another, leaving me exhausted and teetering on the brink of despair for the majority of the summer. Everything suffered.
Then it dawned on me…in my desire to do, I was doing too much. I wasn’t focused on anything one thing, but rather all over the place, bouncing from one task to another, multitasking my days away with nothing receiving my attention one hundred percent. It was time to cut back.
Of course, cutting back meant making decisions. Hard ones. Ones that I do not like to have to face. First and foremost – What do we focus on? What one thing do we do and do well?
The answer to this came relatively easily. Our Nigerian Dwarf goats. They’ve become my passion even more so than I thought (I adore the little boogers). We have now invested a significant amount of money and time into our registered herd. I’ve spent several years learning as much as I can about the breed with hours spent researching new things weekly. In regards to livestock of any form, our hilly, wooded land is better suited to rotational browsing/grazing for goats than anything else. They are relatively inexpensive to keep. Offspring are adorable and in demand. Milk can be used for additional products (and frozen for future use). No brainer, right?
Right, but with that choice came the need to rehome our non-registered goats and the two horses. We were very blessed to find amazing homes with people I’ve been able to stay in touch with for all, but it still hurt. Each pick up came with tears and heartache. I felt that I had failed the horses in their time with us and the goats had been with us since the beginning, some being bottle babies. All loved very much by me. Sacrifice in the name of progress, I suppose. We are now down to a manageable herd of nine registered NDs with great lines behind them - six does, one buck and two wethers (the originals, Beavis and Butthead, who are not going anywhere).
Then came the thinning of the chicken flock. This was nothing in comparison to the goats and horses. Not to sound heartless, but my plan, from the beginning, has been to rotate my laying hens. New pullets are added each spring and two year-old layers sold in the fall. We still have a few more to rehome, but we’re now down from around 40 birds to less than twenty. To free up more time and funds for the goats, I will likely thin down farther in the spring to a flock of 15 or less (although I am talking to a friend now about adding a couple spring hatch Lavender Orpingtons).
The next step is the gardens. Though planning is not complete yet (winter project), the gardens will be for us, alone, next year. No dried or fresh herbs for sale. All fruits and vegetables harvested will be for our own canning and consumption (or that of our animals). I am even considering taking the year off from the vegetables and herbs to concentrate on getting my perennial beds back in order. We shall see, but there will be a definite reduction in the amount of gardening activity next year. There has to be, sadly.
My point in all this rambling is not to tell you all how bad it was for me, but rather this. Sometimes we find ourselves really good at a bunch of individual things. We take these strengths and try to accomplish them all. However, our knowledge, time and energy become spread too thin and these strengths compound to become a key weakness. Things begin to unravel because they can’t be held together. We find ourselves struggling at things we once easily thrived in doing. We fail.
If you find yourself in this position, don’t just throw in the towel. Take a moment to look around - to review and reevaluate. What do you want (read this as: really want) to focus the most on? What things have you allowed to become too big – too important? What do you want to dedicate your time and attention to? Or maybe it’s as simple as this: What do you love to do? Find that one thing and do it well. And allow your past failures to be the road map that moves you forward in your goals.
“The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get… Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”
- John Maxwell, Failing Forward (read full excerpt here).
Though I cannot guarantee this to become a reality, I hope to write a series of Lessons from the Land as we grow and learn from Sylvan Wind.