Tag Archives: homesteading in Mexico

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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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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Horse Trader

One evening I got home and was going about my business when I heard a whiny from the animal area.  Now we haven’t had a horse since my husband sold them (See A dismantling of sorts) and the whiny perplexed me.  So I headed out to find that in place of our 6 goats, there was a tallish red young stallion with a black mane.  

He was friendly, but a bit on the thin side.  Probably not well cared for by his previous owner.  Of course, that doesn’t explain how he got into our animal area and the location of the goats.  I waited around for my husband to get home and demand an explanation.  He was a bit worse for wear, so the explanation had to wait until morning.

It seems that in addition to his poor choice of activities the night before, he had made a deal for a horse that he didn’t have any intention of buying. However, as soon as the neighbor down the road expressed some interest in this horse, my husband had to have him.  He traded our 6 goats and $1000 pesos for Alto (Tall boy).

Along with the subsequent hangover, he had a huge case of buyer’s remorse.  We had already determined that a horse is not profitable.  If my husband isn’t sharecropping, the horse has no way to earn its keep.  A horse provides no milk or eggs.  This particular horse couldn’t even be ridden as it was in such a malnourished state.  Plus, we no longer had any horse gear (saddles, bridles, reins, etc). Well, if he wanted a horse so bad, he’d have to figure out how to maintain it.

My husband went hither and yon looking for a new owner for Alto.  Alto didn’t mind. There was plenty of grass and over the month he spent with us, he plumped out considerably.  Finally, a new deal was struck.  In exchange for Alto, my husband would receive 2 boy chivitos (young goats) which were part of a triplet birth, always a good thing (See Goat Genetics) and a young yeguita (mare) plus $3500 pesos.  Immediately upon the transfer, my husband took one of the chivitos (because you only ever need one macho per herd) and traded it for one of Jirafa’s twins. (See Assassin Goat )

With some of the money from this deal, my husband bought La Flaca (Skinny) and La Chica (Small one), both white goats.  There was some talk about selling the new mare for $5000 pesos, but that deal fell through.  Meanwhile, the rest of the $3500 went to buy Jirafa and her other twin back.  

Another deal that didn’t happen was the sale of La Flaca. Jirafa had been trained to return to the corral once full.  La Flaca was not. My husband was not happy with her as she liked to travel hither and yon instead of staying put.  She also divided the herd.  Half would follow Jirafa, half La Flaca.  As the potential buyer didn’t have the cash, my husband wasn’t about to just let her go for free and fiado (with a promise to pay later).  So La Flaca became part of the herd with the provision of being tied should her nomadic nature caused her to roam.  

The herd was back up to 6 again and we still had a horse.  She was a pleasant horse and there really was no reason not to embrace her into the family.  However, our hearts had been broken with the sale of Shadow and it took some time for my son and me to accept Buttercup.  She was fattening up nicely now that she had proper care.  My husband thought she was a bit older than the previous owner stated because of the length of her tail, but malnourishment kept her from growing properly.  She will probably be smallish, but that’s ok.  Our rancho is smallish.  She isn’t large enough to be ridden or bred.  We’ll have to see how things go during the dry season when food is not as plentiful.  I would say she is on provisional permanence.

My husband still had it in mind to add to the animal holdings.  Suddenly there were two borregas (sheep).  I have been opposed to sheep because they bleat all the time, but these two have been bearable.  The previous owner assured my husband that they both were pregnant, but that remains to be seen. They know they are sheep and not goats and have nothing to do with the goats.  They refuse to share their corral and only just barely tolerate their presence while grazing.  I think Puppy thinks they are largish dogs.  (See Separating the Sheep and the Goats

Oh yes, we have a new puppy.  Again, we were reluctant to open our hearts to another dog after Chokis was poisoned, but Puppy appeared and we are smitten.  He is friendly, obedient and so wants to be a house dog.  Of course, my husband is opposed to that, so he’s only a house dog when he isn’t around.  Puppy and I take a walk every morning and most afternoons now that my schedule has freed up (See Transition year).  He and Devil, our macho cat, are buddies. The only problem is he refuses to be inside during the day and chases motorcycles, so we are concerned someone will either run him over or poison him. (See 101 Perritos) People here have an irrational fear of dogs.  He does like to jump on people to have his head rubbed so we’ve been working on retraining him not to do that or chase motorcycles.  As for his name, well it was supposed to be Rascal, but he responds to Puppy, so Puppy it is.  My husband keeps threatening to give him away, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Puppy goes with him and the goats and the moment my husband sits down, there’s Puppy ready for a head scratch practically climbing in his lap.

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