When we dream of the country most of us envision something like walking barefoot through a field of lush green grass as the wind kisses our faces and the animals bask in the sun. Everything is bliss! Well, while I actually have done this and felt this on more than one occasion, there are many other sides to country living that you must also deal with in order to realize the bliss that is possible. I think these other dimensions of country life can come as a shock to most of us. Many farm dreamers are looking to break away from city life and, although many know to be scared about the financial aspect of the break, many have not thought through the fearsome realities of day-to-day farming or homesteading.
When we talk about the pioneers we often use the word fortitude. Besides requiring great health and physical strength, it took someone with great mental strength to pack up their covered wagon and head into the unknown. I think that the ground swelling of people looking to ditch the city in hopes of a more sustainable country life are also pioneers. While we're not really breaking new ground, we've travelled so far away from a homesteader type of life that going back is a bit of a mystery. It is unknown. The majority of us don't remember a grandmother who spent her days canning food and never ran through the yard with the free-ranging chickens during the day only to sit down to a roast chicken dinner that night. Not only do we have those lost skills to figure out all over again, but we also have new challenges to face as we try to live a simple life in a very non-simplistic world. It takes fortitude.
The trouble is, if you've never done it before, then you don't really know what you're in for. Reading about or talking with people who homestead gives a sense of country living, but most have probably not shared their horror stories. Even if you've started building your dream of what you want your homestead to look like, you've probably never imagined the things that could go wrong. Now it's time to really put yourself in the homestead and daydream for a moment. Can you really picture yourself living the events I'm about to unfold. In the coming weeks I'll describe some events that were foreign to me in hopes to prepare you for your journey ahead. From there, you decide your level of fortitude.
All is NOT Bliss! Or is it?
You've made a successful break from your city ties! You bought some acreage and have a few animals. You've figured out how to provide the basic necessities of what the animals need and you've spent many hours watching them play and love life. You're feeling pretty good about your accomplishments and you relish doing chores each day.
Until this day.
As you walk out to the pasture to check on your few "pet" sheep you are prepared to see beautiful snow white animals happily grazing. You expect to see the two little lambs that were born yesterday to be snuggled next to their mother's side. But as you approach, without really understanding, you notice that something looks a little different. The small flock is bunched up to one side of the paddock and no one looks content. They are sort of standing around alert rather than eating or lounging. You scan the horizon and see something off in the distance. It's white...kind of. You begin to walk faster, then run as you realize there is something else in with the sheep. You stop suddenly when you see that it's a fox and it has killed one of your baby lambs. Being so proud of it's kill, the fox keeps one eye on you, but doesn't stop from enjoying it's breakfast.
What will you do now?
On one hand you're amazed at being so close to such a beautiful wild animal and you want to study the fox, but on the other hand you're crushed at the little lamb's life that will be no more. You're upset with yourself for not providing better protection for the little lamb and the farmer in you knows that you must remedy the situation quickly before there is any more loss. Yet, the naturalist in you knows that this is part of the circle of life. Perhaps the urbanite in you longs for the city and not knowing of these "natural" occurrences, but it's too late for that.
Do you have the fortitude to deal with this situation and still enjoy your life as a homesteader? When the decision is yours and yours alone to act what will you be able to do?
I can assure you that you will never have felt so alone in the pasture before. Will you slowly back away, rush to the house, take out the gun and then slink back to the pasture? Do you even have a gun or know how to use it? If you can get this far in the daydream, then can you picture yourself lifting the gun and sighting the fox in the scope? Can you picture yourself pulling the trigger? And finally, can you try to feel what it must be like to lift the dead fox, which is heavier and bloodier than you imagined, and drop it over the fence so that the scavengers can eat it?
This was something that I never thought I would ever have to do in my life. A fox was something that I might have seen run across the road when I was driving home from work at night. When I read about farming I read the pages on predation and I thought through how to keep predators at bay, but I never thought through what I would do when my plans failed. Predation is a reality of nature and when you live in the country you are surrounded by nature. When you have animals you will have predators. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. No matter how well you think you have built a fence or a coop, sooner or later you will encounter a wild animal looking for dinner. If you're lucky, it will happen infrequently, but that just makes it more of a shock when you see it.
You can begin to prepare yourself now by researching how others deal with predation with things such as “Nite Guards” and “Livestock Guardian Dogs”, but these are not absolute solutions. Take it a step further by putting yourself in this situation, even if only in your mind, and decide what you are comfortable doing. If it involves killing the predator, then start by researching the behavior of the wild animals in your area. Know how close you can get to a snake before it will strike. Learn the signs of what a rabid raccoon looks like. And start learning about guns now. Take a hunter safety course, find a shooting range, have someone mentor you about using guns, and practice, practice, practice. When hunting season rolls around find someone who will let you tag along for the experience. But most of all, don't let the thought of predators hold you back. It's something that we all come to reconcile in our own personal way.