Tag Archives: homesteading in Mexico

Little by little…

The rainy season has kept our travels to a minimum lately. However, we have been doing this and that to the house.

Gate after

The improved gate to prevent the invasion of zombies (or peering neighbors) got painted. We used paint we already had, so it didn’t cost too much. Enough paint remained that we painted the front window and the garage door. They needed another coat of paint since it’s now been over 10 years since they were installed.

Then, my husband made a patio in the area between the animals and our house. During the rainy season, this area got quite muddy, so it’s a nice improvement. The bricks are not cemented down, so if we decided to change the purpose of the area, it won’t be a major hassle. Puppy loves it!

The rain did a number on one or two of my framed puzzles I had hanging on the wall. The water seeped through the bricks and molded them up. Fortunately, only one was unsalvagable. This issue necessitated a thin layer of cement being spread over the outside wall expanse. It was no more than a half of day’s work for my husband and son and has greatly improved the impermeability of the wall.

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And finally, we installed two more solar panels, bringing the total to 3, to increase the overall power production. We still need to get some more batteries, but that will have to wait until the next paycheck.

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A Day in the Life in Owl Valley

Sarah Sass from Homestead Uncensored has shared a day in her family’s life in Owl Valley.

Today is a bright blue Tuesday in the first months of rainy season.  To tell the story of today as a constant norm is to cheat dry season’s Sundays when abundance is entangled in drought.

There is no typical day here, only the hope that today is what you have prepared for.

Today will look very different from three days from now when calories begin to run low and water levels drop with no guarantee of relief.  Keeping this in mind puts “today” into context, regardless of abundance or lack.

Knowing that rainy season alleviates as much as it exacerbates helps to tell the whole story of a normal day on a homestead in Mexico.

Our days exist in the vesica pisces of harder and smarter.  The meeting place for comfort and the archaic.

Early morning is devoted to animals.  Scythe cuts back alfalfa.  Corn that came in by the ten-thousands is milled to cover the day’s needs.  Three buckets of river water to fill the trough.  Independent cat finds a mouse while hungry dogs play chase underfoot.

This routine is repeated before the sun sets.  Only then, the cat dines on the day’s last basking lizard.

After the final dog is fed, my day of housework begins while my husband makes a mental checklist of the farm’s to-dos over the last cup of coffee.  Today: Cut carrizo for roofing on the new sheep shelter.  Collect mineral-rich “black gold” from the banks of the flooded river to contribute to the piles of goat manure which will feed baby avocado and citrus trees in coming months.  He leaves for the fields with a machete and shovel.

Coffee beans roasted and ground.  Pineapple vinegar started with breakfast scraps.  Harvest is tucked in to begin their fermenting slumber. Kombucha’s black tea steeps while amaranth bread doubles in size.  I sort lentils alongside the six-year-old as he draws the flags of North America and learns that ‘y’ sometimes impersonates a vowel.

All meals and all lesson plans are made from scratch and consume the entire morning.  Everyday.

Halfway through the morning dishes, there is another chore for the list: replenish the household’s 1200 liters of water from downhill.  Before the well can be uncovered, a neighbor, his wife, son, daughter-in-law and toddler grandson are in our living room.  They have come to invite us to their home for tejate.  In the next hour.

The actual act of drinking tejate is all of three minutes, yet this invitation will consume the rest of daylight.  I send along freshly baked muffins in my place.

With water’s return and a house to myself, dishes are finished, floors are swept and mopped, beds stripped and remade.

Barrels of last night’s rain need filtered for laundry.  It has gotten late and afternoon clouds lurk around the adjacent foothills; it’s best to postpone towels and blankets for another day.

Twenty gallons filtered and divided up between buckets posing as washing machines; in dry season they stand in for bathtubs when only warm water will do.

Sheets, pillow cases and throw rugs washed, rinsed and spun.  By hand.  Everything is washed by hand.

Next up kitchen towels and napkins.

Then child’s clothing.

Finally husband’s.

Beginning the cycle again with my clothes in a week from now.

The shortage of time and covered clothesline drags the chore out over five days.

To avoid musty disappointment, I need to catch the early day heat and pre-storm winds, yet outrun her raindrops.  This takes planning.

Rainy season renders the river unusable as the water takes on the hue of ore.  This limits our laundry water supply to what collects in rain barrels.  Assuming storms don’t lose their sense of direction in the dark and head into other foothills, leaving us dry but with a turbulent river.

Once the river settles, washing returns to the banks where under the shade of soap nut trees and ancient Sabinos, socks are scrubbed one-by-one in the canal while the child digs holes in the sand with a chunk of broken coconut shell.  We watch Kingfisher dive among the shallow waters and Crab scuttle; our footprints in the mud alongside the chickens’.

There is a trade-off for laundering in paradise.  Schlepping the wet clothing back uphill to the covered lines, yoked over the shoulders.

Totally worth it.

Agrarian and domestic toil may only appear harder as their true genius is kept secret.  Fifteen hours of laundry strengthen bodies and determination.  Corn harvest pulls us together for weeks as we shuck and grain and retell old stories.   Eating homegrown and foraged meals around a fire under a canopy of stars fills more than ravenous bellies.  Today is always a great day.

In the last minutes of consciousness, a reflection of the day fills me with accomplishment for all the work that was done.  Gratitude that no one was injured, no animals fell prey, and for the rainy hours, we three spent on a 500-piece puzzle of mushrooms, ferns and blackberry bushes.

Before succumbing to exhaustion, I reach for my husband’s hand, both raw from work.  My mind isn’t on tomorrow.  Only the songs of the tree frogs while a swollen river babbles on about cycles, flow, and human’s faulty need for predictable permanence.

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Selling Some Sheep

Since someone has decided to turn La Yacata into a post-apocalyptic wasteland by burning every single lot whether or not the owners gave permission, food for our herd/flock has been harder to find.  The goats are getting by because they eat quite a variety of plant stuff and are agile in their foraging abilities. The sheep, on the other hand, are finding good eats more difficult.

As rainy season doesn’t begin for another few months, my husband decided that some of the sheep needed to go in order to buy some food for the rest.  He went back and forth which should be sold, not really wanting to part with any of them. Finally, he decided the two newest additions would be sacrificed for the greater good.  Neither had names yet so we hadn’t gotten too attached.

The neighbor, who I call Best Buddy because he wants to do everything my husband does, also decided he was going to sell some sheep to buy some feed.  He wanted to sell 4.  So since my husband wanted to take them to Puruándiro, Michoacan to sell, he needed to get a “guia”, which is a permit for transporting animals.  He picked it up at the same place he registered the animals in January, the Asociacion Ganadera Local in Moroleon.  It cost 25 pesos.

 

Since Best Buddy couldn’t leave any earlier than 8 am, I had plenty of time to take my walk with Puppy and feed the cats.  Then we were off.

Just as we passed La Calera, a truck with some goats pulled alongside us and motioned for us to pull over.  Curious, we did. They wanted to know if we were off to sell the animals in Puruándiro. We were. They offered to buy them for 33 pesos a kilo right then and save us the trip. Best Buddy wasn’t too happy with the price.  He had been told that in Puruándiro he could get 36 pesos per kilo. I signaled to my husband that we should take the deal.  After all, we weren’t experienced in the whole buying and selling done in Puruándiro and odds were we’d actually get a smaller price without knowing the ins and outs of it all.

Finally, my husband suggested we go and weigh the animals in Cerano, the next town, and then decide.  There is a bascula (weighing machine) there. This bascula is the type you drive upon with the animals and get weighed.  Then you take the animals off and weigh the vehicle again. The difference is the weight of the animals. So we pulled in there and said hi to my husband’s cousin who runs it. However, Best Buddy wanted the animals to be weighed separately since they had two owners.

La bascula in Cerano

No problem.  We followed them into town and stopped next to a telephone post.  The guys pulled out a scale and hung the animals from it, one by one. One sheep weighted 52 kilos and the other was 20 kilos. 72 kilos at 33 pesos a kilo was enough to buy food that should last until the rainy season starts.  Interestingly enough,  macho sheep are sold for 40 pesos per kilo, 7 pesos more than females. Since we have more machos than we need at the moment, this little tidbit will be useful in the future.

With the prices agreed upon and the animals loaded into the other guys’ truck, we followed them up the road to the bank so they could make a withdrawal.  Of course, there was the chance that the truck would take off with the animals and we’d be left whistling Dixie, but that didn’t happen. It turns out that the guys were from Cerano and knew my husband’s family.  I have no doubt that they took their new acquisitions to Puruándiro and sold them for 36 pesos per kilo.

Since cash runs like water through my husband’s fingers, we went in search of pacas (bales) of alfalfa immediately. We drove towards Yuriria and came across some pacas in lines waiting for transport.  We stopped and my husband hopped out to ask the guy if they were for sale. He wasn’t in charge, but the owner was just up the road on the tractor. So that’s where we went. After some negotiation, the owner agreed to 100 pesos per paca (bale). For comparison, most pacas in Moroleon are running 120 pesos right now and increase the further into the dry season it is.  My husband and Best Buddy loaded the truck up.

 

But we weren’t done yet.  We headed to this little town called Monte de Los Juarez (the hill belonging to the Juarez family). There, Best Buddy did some heavy negotiation with the lady who runs the store for 2 turkeys for 500 pesos. So with a full truckload of pacas, 3 adults and 2 turkeys in the cab, we headed home.

Negotiation in process.

The next day, Best Buddy sold the turkeys he bought and our two that had stripped all our saplings bare in the course of an afternoon.  With more money in his hot little (or not so little) hands, my husband wanted to get some more pacas–this time rastrojo (corn stalk). We headed to the same area as yesterday but traveled further down the road.  Just past the town Juan Lucas, we saw a huge towering mound of pacas. We stopped and asked some guy walking down the road if he knew if those pacas were for sale. He said they were and hopped in the back of the truck to head to see the owner. After several whistles and shouts, the owner came to the door.  It’s not polite here to approach a door and knock. Whistling is proper protocol. Drives me nuts though. The owner hollered out that he’d be there in a moment.  He needed to put a shirt on.

Eventually, he came out and the men conferred and pulled at their chins a bit before the price was agreed upon–13 pesos per paca.  In Moroleon, the average rastrojo paca is 16 pesos. The hitchhiker and my husband loaded the truck up. My husband gave him algo pa’la soda (a tip) and we dropped him off at his house.

On the way home, we stopped at a roadside stand in Ozumbilla.  DELICIOUS! While we were eating, a man with an ice cream tricycle began to hoot and holler.  We looked over and he was gesturing down the road and at our truck. It seemed the man wasn’t able to talk, but he wanted us to be aware that the Federales were heading down the road.  There’s a great deal of suspicion against the police in small towns and not without reason. We didn’t have anywhere else to park the truck, so decided to wait it out. Sure enough, a convoy passed not 5 minutes later with the entire town along the side of the road to bear witness to their passing.

Lunch finished, we headed home. We now have enough feed to last us close enough to the rainy season.  Hooray!

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Filed under Animal Husbandry, Homesteading

Baby the Sheep

So my husband got it in his head that borregos (sheep) are more profitable than goats.  It is true that borregos sold by the kilo are more expensive BUT they are a smaller animal, so overall there are fewer kilos to be had.  Disregarding my logic, he went ahead and traded our macho goat for a young borrega and her borregita.

I continued my naysaying despite the now physical presence of more borregos.  Borregos carry on something awful whether or not they are hungry. (See Separating the Sheep from the Goats They are more delicate healthwise.  (See Birth and Death)  They need more care than goats.  They don’t eat as varied a diet as goats so food during the dry season will be harder to find.  All to no avail.

The young borrega managed to come down with a BAD case of chorro (diarrhea) probably from the change of diet from her previous home to ours.  This affected little borregita because the mama’s milk all but dried up during her illness.  So three days after purchase, it was looking like borregita wasn’t going to make it.  She was listless.  She became weaker and weaker until she could no longer stand.  It was pitiful.  My husband debated whether it would be kinder to just kill her.

I objected.  Surely there was another option.  We’ve had orphaned babies before on our mini-rancho.  I convinced him to try and nurse her back to health.  We bought a bottle and some milk, mixed with suero (electrolytes) to feed her.

The difference was marked almost immediately.  The second day of bottle feeding she could lift her head and bleated to let my husband (now named Papa Chivo–yes she’s a borrego but Papa Borrego doesn’t roll off the tongue as well) she was ready for more milk.

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My husband and son alternated bottle feedings and the borreguita was christened Baby so that when she hollered in the middle of the night I could shake my husband awake and say “Go feed Baby.”  After about a week of milk, she started to show an interest in the paca (alfalfa bales).  So feedings were supplemented with a bit of alfalfa and some ground maiz sorgo mixed with milk like a cereal.

It took about a week for her to try and stand but as soon as she could wobble about she demanded to be taken out with the rest of the herd.  She couldn’t keep up, so my husband had to carry her.  She was content as could be munching on the grass she could reach while resting and watching the gang graze.  Mama borrega was happy as well.  She was a nervous Nelly when she had to leave Baby behind.  Maybe that’s what we’ll call her–Nelly.

We had every hope that Baby would make a full recovery.  However, one morning she was again laying on the ground bleating piteously.  She didn’t suffer long.  She died just a few hours later.

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