Spring hope from the depths of a cold winter

  • 2014-02-05
  • By Mike Parr

ALUKSNE - Looking out of my window, I see beautiful clear, blue skies and a light covering of snow on the ground; however, as my daily chores have proven, it is also bitterly cold. Should I forget my gloves or if I have to carry out work that requires me to take them off, my fingers freeze in minutes. Sticking my hands under my armpits does warm them, but to be honest, the short, sharp shock is enough to send me back to the house to enjoy another mug of coffee.
Yes, winter arrived in full force this month and the result is that I have had to re-home my animals until we see signs of spring finally arriving. An added complication is that my goats are due to give birth in the coming weeks. (I plan to keep my buck away from the girls until November this year.)

Anyway, the birthing stalls are ready and bedding and feed laid down for them. Sadly, one of my younger goats decided to give birth to two kids whilst wandering around in the snow. She ‘dropped’ them about three weeks early and I only found out when I was returning to my van to collect some tools. I heard their cries and quickly moved them indoors. Sadly, despite three hours of trying, neither of them survived, but the mother is doing well, seemingly unperturbed at her loss and she is producing milk, so at least there is one positive aspect, although I would have preferred to see the little ones running around the pens.

With temperatures dropping to well below -20C with the wind chill I try to keep my outdoor chores to an absolute minimum, but still I need to collect water on a daily basis, tend to the goats and rabbits and keep my woodpile stocked. I have some friends who think that I am crazy to choose to live like this, but as I have explained to them, until civilization can offer me a hot bath, central heating and shops to buy food, I will stay here (hmmmmmm!)
I understand that this life isn’t for everyone, but I have to say that since I moved out to the countryside my life couldn’t be better. None of the stresses of modern day living, I am learning new skills, and now that I have support in the form of a local Latvian neighbor, who gave up his high flying banking career over twenty years ago, things have become much easier. His local knowledge and assistance, such as when I had to rush Barney to the vet and my van wouldn’t start because it was so cold, has been invaluable.

My decision over the winter months has been to operate the farm in the old style as much as possible. Of course, modern improvements help. Where would I be without my chainsaw? I can tell you, I would be outside in the cold for a good deal longer! But there is a lot to say for old-fashioned methods: they are more in tune with the natural order of life. You live with the seasons and your animals enjoy a more natural lifestyle themselves. As a result, they are healthier, stronger and much happier.

Giving the livestock the chance to roam and eat what they choose is so much better than modern ‘factory farming’ methods and I can say that the end result is a far superior product. Having just recently enjoyed roast chicken, I can say that I have never tasted such flavor from a shop-bought bird.

Of course, this brings in the age old question about eating meat: there are some people who are totally against such a practice, and I have suffered abusive attacks on social media for what I do, but I feel that as long as the animal enjoys a good life, and is dispatched quickly and humanely, then it is the natural order of things. After all, in the wild, animals kill, animals die; I enjoy eating meat (although since moving out here I am eating much less of it) so, provided that I care well for my livestock, then I am happy with it.

But as I said, this life isn’t for everyone.