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How we ended up with a farm

You might be wondering how two city kids ended up with 258 acres?  This is what I wrote for Grass Roots magazine a few years ago.

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When I tell people that my husband Pete and I have bought a 258 acre property and we want to raise cattle and grow our own food, they often ask if I come from a farming background. When I tell them that I’m from the city, they assume that my husband must be from a farm. When I tell them that he’s also from the city, they usually look at me with a mixture of amazement and sympathy. They are clearly wondering how two city kids can possibly run a farm, and thinking that we are just wasting a lot of money on a crazy hobby.



The truth is that we started small and focused on a few things at a time as our interest in self-sufficiency grew. We took every opportunity we could find to learn from other people, and from books, how to do what we wanted to do. And we are still learning more everyday. I hope that by sharing our story, I might inspire other city people to try a self-sufficient country lifestyle.

We started off with five acres in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley, and a few chickens for eggs. We slowly added a vegetable garden and then a little poddy steer to raise for beef. We soon learnt that one calf won’t stay in a paddock by himself, and prefers to go looking for other cattle, so we bought another steer from the local dairy farm (and practiced our fencing skills). That’s when we met the dairy farmers and started dropping in at milking time, and before we knew it we were helping with milking. We learnt about handling the cows, about mastitis and feeding minerals. Pete helped with odd-jobs in exchange for bales of hay and bags of grain. We spent many enjoyable afternoons helping with milking and other farm chores.  (More about our cows here)

At the same time we experimented with incubating our chicken eggs, and butchering the roosters. We decided to concentrate on breeding Rhode Island Red chickens for egg and meat production. We had our first steer killed at the local abattoir and enjoyed a freezer full of our own beef and chicken, and a garden full of vegetables. We installed a modern woodstove and cooked with it all through winter. Being on a rural property, all our drinking water was rainwater and all our wastewater went to the septic system. We felt like we were on the way to self-sufficiency on that property.

Then a job opportunity led us to move about 200 km NW to the South Burnett region of Queensland. We found ourselves a suitable property, this time with eight acres of land. We were soon settled in, with another garden started, even more chickens and a few steers. We started to improve the fencing and remove weeds (mostly lantana). We found that we missed the dairy so much that we wanted our own house cow, so, after months of preparation, we brought home our cow, Bella and her young heifer calf, Molly.

We had our first homekill steer and tanned his hide ourselves to make a nice floor rug for the house. This time we got to see how the butcher worked to transform our beast into cuts of meat. We were both sad to see the steer killed, but felt comforted that we knew he had a happy life and died eating in the paddock next to his friend, without a stressful journey to the abattoir. We also installed another woodstove and began cutting firewood from a large pile of felled tress on our property.

After a few years we realised that eight acres was not quite enough for us to live self-sufficiently, as we were still buying hay for the cattle through winter, and still buying firewood after the pile ran out. We were also worried that we could run out of water for our animals. Pete spent months looking at properties on the internet, and eventually he found one that we could afford, that was still reasonably close to our work. The property was relatively cheap because it still had a lot of remnant forest. Having read Peter Andrews’ books, we knew that this was good for fertility, so we were happy with the trees. There are plenty of cleared areas too, and 60 acres that had been set up for cultivation. It seemed like just want we needed, so we made an offer and bought the property.




We got ourselves a tractor and some implements and Pete taught himself to plough the paddock and plant forage for haymaking (although we later decided that we prefer perennial pasture). We bought some steers from the saleyard, and spent a stressful week repairing the fences that they broke until they got used to the place. Then we decided that some cows would be easier and found a herd of Braford cows and calves. We sold the steers and weaner calves from the cows and learnt about the cattle market. Pete was back on the internet looking at real estate and found us a cheap removal house to put on the property, so that we can live there eventually.

We have some ambitious plans for this property. In the house yard we will certainly have another garden, we will have our first attempt at an aquaponics system and start a “food forest” orchard full of fruit trees, nut trees, berries and herbs. We will have chickens, and maybe try some other poultry. We’d like to build huge chicken tractors and move them over the pasture. We’re not sure yet whether to try for organic certification, but we are using organic methods throughout the farm anyway, because they are cheaper than buying chemicals.

Occasionally, when we have a hard week and it seems completely overwhelming, we joke about moving back to the city, about Pete trying to weld and grind metal on an apartment balcony and where we would put Bella the cow. We both know that we could never go back to the city-life and relying on someone else to grow our food, so we just have to keep enjoying the benefits of living self-sufficiently on our little farm. If you are in the city and dream of a farm life, then maybe you can achieve it too by taking small steps.

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Have you "ended up" on a farm?  Or would you like to?
 

Comments

  1. That is such an inspiring story. I dream of starting a market garden. I have the land, but need to invest in fencing, water some equiptment and irrigation. But I'm scared, sure I can grow a few veggies in the yard garden, but I'm scared to take it to the next level. Mostly scared of spending all that money and not being able to do it, or it not being profitable, I don't expect to make a fortune, but I'd need a little income after expenses. Oddly enough I'm at a crossroads with my "paid job" basically I hate it! And I'm desperately searching for something else, reading stories like yours gives me hope and inspiration. Thank you.

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  2. That was nice to read your whole story in a little package like that - as i mostly have read it in bits and pieces. You are such an inspiraiton, and i enjoy your stores, although we will never have anything the size you do!

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  3. great post, living on the land is rewarding in its own self, i only have 1 & a half acres which need a fair bit of work, there are still plumbing repairs to do which prevent me from putting in more gardens.
    i was born in the country & lived my very earliest years on a farm in a country town, it was only a small plot but some of the memory is still there. have tried to live in the city & the suburbs, honestly, i can't stand it, okay to visit but love my chooks & pets. the hope was to get more self sufficient but didn't get there at least not yet.
    you breed Rhode Island Reds? do you sell them as well? i love those birds, had some given to me not long after i moved to the country & they were great layers.
    love hearing your story
    thanx for sharing

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  4. Thank you for that. We are tossing up buying some acreage, a bit of land or just starting with a house right now. We found a very nice looking 10acre block but we also know that we would like more. It is interesting to read how you grew and changed.

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  5. Fab outline of your adventure with farming. I've ready your blog for ages but in bits and pieces. This brings it all together nicely. Once you have settled on your property, consider farm stays for extra income. You have such a nice personality that you would lend yourself to this type of business with ease. So many people want to live on the land but just cant (me included) put everything at risk. Perhaps its being middle aged that makes you so cautious. No time to start again if it all goes horribly wrong. I enjoy reading your posts if only to wonder what if?

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  6. Great story of how you got where you are. Mines not a farm yet but it's getting there slowly, land prices making it difficult.
    It does feel a mad lifestyle with all the extra work involved but it's so rewarding and I can't see myself living any other way.

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  7. I didn't know that your a city girl, you make living the country life seem so effortless. I love your adventures and I do I hope that soon I will be back on acreage and possibly with more land than our last place of 11 acres. Time will only tell, for now we have to do with a little chapter in a small town to adjust to our new life and search for a place to buy.

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  8. I loved this post - inspirational much.

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  9. great story!!
    I never imagined living on a farm-life is full of surprises :)

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  10. I have enjoyed your posts over the years, we have done many of the same things only our climate is much more friendly than yours. We have less acres so are limited on how many animals so we rotate what we raise, we have steers in the freezer and are working toward raising a pig next but hens for eggs and roosters for meat are a constant. Our summer vegetables are coming along so we will be canning before too long. It isn't an easy life, lots of sweat and death come into play but it is how humans lived for thousands of years.

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  11. I love this post Liz!! You are such an inspiration and I do envy all that you've been able to do!! :) Onwards and upwards I say!! Congratulations on all that you've done and achieving so many goals along the way!

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  12. Isn't it amazing how chickens are the "gateway animal" for bigger and better self sufficiency? We started very much like you, just a little here, little there! Love this story, thanks for sharing it on From The Farm!

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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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