Grit Blogs > Back to the Land

The Beginning of the Niles Journey

A photo of MalisaWell, I did it. I milked a goat. I thought it would hard to do, but it was more of a mental block than it being a difficult chore. It wasn’t so bad, well until the goat stepped into the bucket.

In my family’s move to be more self-sufficient, there have been many such obstacles. The knowledge is there but there is sometimes the question of “can I really do this?” surfaces. My family started this move 1 ½ years ago. My husband, Rick and I had purchased an old (1890) huge rectory house that sat on 8 acres in July 2009, but due to the purchase agreement we waited until July 2011 to move in.

Malisa's house 

In the fall of 2010, I had been a high school agricultural teacher for 14 years and was suffering from major teacher burnout and our home life was suffering due to my long hours and high stress levels. Rick and I sat down talked and prayed about what we should do. We, along with divine guidance, decided I should resign the following year (May 2011) and become a stay at home mom for our 3 daughters; Banion (7 yrs), Bethany (4 yrs) and Emma (3yrs) and work on our new farm growing and producing food for our family. Rick works for an area wind farm. Our family goal is to have a family farm similar in the 1940s/1950s; self-sufficient, but possibly produce a bit extra to sell.

The family moved in August 2011 to the country. By fall, the family included 2 rabbits, 1 pig (butchered in November), 19 laying hens and 1 self-confident rooster. We have worked hard in and out of house. Rick and I ripped out carpet and refinished the wood floors, remodeled the office and laundry room, and are currently working on the main floor bath. Well, was working on, but spring hit and that project is on hold as we work on outside projects. In the last month, the family has expanded by 5 rabbits, 92 broiler chicks, 13 replacement layers, 2 milking goats, and 3 goat kids, so fencing, building chicken tractors, and holding pens have become the new priority.

The plan is to raise the rabbits for meat. We will keep 3 does and a buck through the winter, but butcher the rest for meat and fur. I am a little nervous about how the girls will take it, but we have been honest with them from the start of the rabbit venture. I plan on having them chose the rabbits we will keep, hopefully that will help.

The layer hens are used for eggs. I pay Banion with 5 dz eggs a week that she can sell in exchange for helping with evening chicken and rabbit chores. She is saving up for an incubator. My youngest daughter Emma, now 4, is the official egg collector. However, I must go out with her to get them because she is afraid of Rusty, the rooster. I hope to remedy this problem when I move him to the chicken tractor after we butcher our broilers in early May. I built 3 tractors. I am using them for the broilers and young replacement chicks for now, but am going to put all of my birds in them during the summer to keep them out of my garden. I have ordered 4 guineas for insect control.

During my former life as an ag teacher, I taught about dairy cows, but had never touched on milking goats or any goat topic come to think of it. I have experienced a sharp learning curve. Luckily I have a couple seasoned goat professionals, I can call on or even text my questions to.  I even built a goat milking stanchion. 

goat milking sanction 

I tweaked the plans to include a flip down seat and ramp. I am thinking about applying floor grip to the floor since the wood seems a bit slippery when the goats climb up or down. Construction stuff I know, I am a seasoned DIY’er but I am still learning about goats.

In the next month, I plan on preparing my garden bed, building a cold frame using some old windows that we replaced on the house and recycled wine bottles, finishing the new rabbit hutch, butchering the broilers, finishing putting up the pig pen, and of course chores. We are expecting 2 pig weanlings in 2 weeks and are on a dairy’s waiting list for 3 bottle calves.

My eldest Banion (now 8) tells everyone she is now a country girl, since she lives in the country and has farm animals. I wonder when I will start feeling like one. I can’t say I have ever been a city girl. I grew up in rural Rapid City, South Dakota (pop. 60,000) and have spent the last 15 years living in Woonsocket, SD, population 750, but I thought I would feel different actually living on the farm. Not yet, maybe I am too tired from all of the chores, fencing, planning, and of course being a mom.