The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

2009 save money challenge update. July.

Photo: Evening sky in Cheveley

Photo: Evening sky in Cheveley

I was going to post about our “save 50% in 2009” challenge. We are achieving it and are not weeping by the checkout in any local supermarket with the horror of it all. That’s why you haven’t had a smug monthly update.

If we had to halve what we are spending now it would be a totally different story. I’m pretty sure that we couldn’t achieve that challenge. Our spending is around £50 a week for everything (from loo rolls to matches). It means that we focus on the condemned food counter and slashed priced offers. A freezer is essential at the moment. Wine is now just an occasional treat.

Saving money takes time and energy. Danny does a mail run to Newmarket everyday and so can bob into the shops looking for bargains.

For ages I have mulled over Domingo’s comment in Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart. The neighbour was amazed that Chris and Ana were going shopping. He reckoned that it was a pointless waste of money as all the people in the district had everything that they needed to keep going and generally didn’t own a fridge or a freezer. OK their diet was mainly home cured ham and potatoes but it got me thinking. The community grew a lot of vegetables and also kept sheep and goats – milk, cheese and meat in season.

Now I’m  looking at what we really need to buy, rather than what we want to buy.
Our monthly essentials are milk, coffee, tea, butter, flour, sugar, rice, spices, olive oil, salt, vinegar, lentils, cheese and meat and a few vegetables to supplement our own.

We could lay the front garden to wheat but I doubt that we produce enough flour to feed our bread sauce habit essential with roast chicken). We could use easily use our own honey rather than sugar to sweeten things, so this can be struck immediately off the list. We could keep a goat and make butter and cheese – when I have a bit more time, I’d love to keep a Nanny goat. Super fresh goat’s milk, yoghurt, ice cream and cheese doesn’t taste goaty and is far healthier than cow’s milk. Which is lucky as we don’t have the space for a cow just yet.

We could even grow our own lentils. We make quite a lot of fruit wine so perhaps we could make our own vinegar too.

But branded tea and coffee would be impossible to supplement. My parents were stationed in Germany, just after WW2, and discovered that coffee was an extremely valuable commoditize. My parents bartered a pound of coffee for a Min Pin puppy. In the UK today a superb pack of coffee might set you back £6 and a Min Pin pup costs the guts of £600.

Within the last five minutes I’ve discovered that it’s possible to grow tea in the UK. The problem is that I’ve never been very good with Camellias.

So if we raised more vegetables it would be just the meat, coffee, rice, flour, salt, olive oil and spices that we needed to buy. And there’s the rub – would we have time to get to the shops with all the tilling and hoeing required?

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  1. HI. I’m Linda as in comment on the 24th. Linda as in comment on 27th is someone else. I’ve noticed that there are quite a few of us in blog-land. Given that it’s a name that belongs to a certain era, we are probably much the same age, and maybe our views are interchangeable!

  2. I think that if you buy in bulk as others have suggested, you would save time as well as money.

    With the amount of land and animals you are thinking of having, I still think you will have time to do other things, though that extra time is going to be more precious and your priorities would change since you have to care for living creatures.

    The locals where we bought our farm highly suggest getting a freezer so that we don’t have to run into town (thirty minute drive) and they buy nearly every thing in bulk-from canned goods to meat. Some take turns and go the bigger city to shop for each other because they get better deals in the larger areas.
    The area is all about self sufficiency so preserving much of their food is high on the priority list. If they don’t grow it themselves, they buy bushels and preserve them. Its much more economical.

    Do you have a category where you wrote about cutting your food bill in half? I think its something we need to do here and would love to read about your journey from the start if you tracked it.

  3. michelle sheets

    I agree with Linda (and Wendy and Cathy!). When it comes to the self-sufficiant struggle there will come times of decision, when you have to ask what is worth more, your time or your money?
    I have to remind myself there are times I need to stick with what I know, and do a better job networking so I can trade for the things I don’t do as well.
    Great comments everyone, I learn as much from you all as I do from Fiona!

  4. Wendy put my thoughts into words very well. I relish your posts on this topic and love the comments that follow. Thanks for all you do.

  5. I always enjoy reading your pieces on economising. In response, your comment section usually have good ideas too. You are so right that part of the solution is in buying only what you need and not what you want. This is so hard though when faced with all the choice in supermarkets nowadays. I was very interested in what Linda said about the self-sufficiency guru and how it affected his family. x

  6. Jo @ LittleFfarm Dairy

    If you’re serious about ‘getting your goat’ one day, I know someone fairly local to you who could provide you with a nice pair of young milky ladies, if you have sufficient land & a stable available for them (as they are herd animals DEFRA will not permit you to keep one on her own). If you purchase your goats ‘in kid’ it saves having to take them to a male (which is a pain) however it’d have to be early on in the pregnancy to be fair on the goat(& bear in mind that in order to have milk you must also have kids: a ‘good’ goat will ‘milk through’ for up to 24 months but breeding still has to occur at some stage – & then you have the kids to deal with…!).

    We always purchase pedigree animals with good ‘milky’ bloodlines; because as the old saying goes, “a bad dairy goat eats as much as a good dairy goat”. A pedigree female or doe (as they tend to be called these days; the terms ‘Nanny’ & ‘Billy’ are considered derogatory – would you credit it? – Political Correctness for Caprines!) will set you back around £250-£300.

    Then you’ll need a large, access-all-hours stable (for accommodation & protection from the weather; plus a segregated clean area with hot & cold running water, for milking; plus an area you can segregate for kidding – although easily done on a temporary basis, with hurdles) & a paddock/loafing area with high, sturdy (& preferably, electrified) fencing (electrified fencing discourages jumping & breakage from browsing) if you don’t have these already; concentrate feed; hay; straw; fresh, daily browse; wet & dry disinfectant; foot shears; grooming brushes; veterinary First Aid kit; kidding kit; milking equipment (stainless steel bucket, strainer, small churn, udder wipes, teat dip, home-made milk bench etc); equipment for crafting cheese, butter, yoghurt & ice cream (bear in mind that certain dairy products cannot be made in the kitchen simultaneously with other products such as bread, for example).

    But after the initial outlay you’ve only got to pay for feed, bedding, vet bills etc – & you get the delicious, nutritious benefit of all that wonderful homemade dairy produce.

    Bear in mind however, that you won’t be able to sell any of it; unless you get registration & approval for your premises from Dairy Hygiene & Environmental Health, both of which can prove very expensive! (They’ve cost us somewhere in the region of £400,000 so far to modify our fairly modest enterprise – & that doesn’t include the value of the smallholding itself!).

    Unfortunately the annual ‘tetanus suite’ vaccine & Bluetongue vaccination are very expensive for the keepers of small goat herds, as you still have to buy a full bottle to inject your couple of goats; so with wormers as well, expect to pay around £100-£150 per annum, for meds (& that excludes any ‘extra’ vet bills for all the daft scrapes goats inevitably get into, not to mention the cost of disbudding kids & the very occasional difficult birth which might require veterinary intervention).

    However; you DO get all that lovely manure for your veggies – & hours of endless fun with these wonderfully sensitive, individual & highly humourous, delightful creatures.

    P.S. Keep up the good work with spreading praise about the beautiful taste of fresh goats’ milk – we like that!! And thank you for your kind comment, reference our recent achievement of attaining Gold in the UK Great Taste Awards.

    We also picked up another First Prize for our lovely new ‘Lemon Grove’ Gelato at the Royal Welsh Show, this week – so getting a First Prize there, two years on the trot (& the only times we’ve entered) is pretty cool (well Gelato is a sort-of ice cream, after all, hee hee!).

    Incidentally goats’ milk is also a healthier alternative to cows’ milk. Whilst similar from a compositional point of view (Across the breed spectrum, cows’ milk contains roughly 3.90-5.37% butterfat & 3.25-3.85% protein; whilst goats’ milk consists of around 3.50-6.00% butterfat & 3.10-4.00% protein); because goats’ milk is naturally homogenised, the fat globules literally bounce through the human arterial system. Whereas cows’ milk on the other hand is artificially homogenised, which shears the far globules;, making them ‘stick’ to the arteries & potentially causing harm in terms of the dreaded ‘bad cholesterol\'(to put it in very simplistic terms, anyway).

    The overall composition of an any-species ‘average’ whole (i.e. full fat) milk, is 4.0% fat; 3.3% protein; 4.6% lactose (milk sugar); & 87.3% water.

    After our major ‘life downshifting\'(ha ha) when we left the RAF 9-to-5 ‘rat race’ & joined the smallholding ‘mouse race’ our diet also shifted: from skimmed, pasteurised, homogenised cows’ milk; to our own ladies’ full-fat, unpasteurised, otherwise-untouched goats’ milk.

    The result?

    Well; whilst our overall cholesterol level didn’t change, our ‘good cholesterol’ markedly improved; & the ‘bad’ decreased accordingly. We also now suffer from far less coughs, colds, sneezes & seasonal ‘niggles’; plus my horrible hayfever has all-but completely disappeared (possibly because, as with the homeopathic benefit of consuming local honey; so our ladies’ milk also contains microscopic amounts of the pollen from the pastures they graze, the hedgerows they browse, & our Ffarm’s organic meadow hay, which they thoughtfully munch during the long-&-dark days of winter). So there you go…..

    Once you’ve got goats, you won’t look back!

  7. I once met the son of a very famous self-sufficiency guru. I think he was around age 20 when I met him, and he was telling me about his girlfriend, and how much he loved her, but that he would not be getting married until he was in a position to set up a home complete with washing machine etc.

    This was because of the way he had seen his mother struggle, raising the children, running the home, catering for students of the guru, all without any so called mod-cons. While the husband wrote and pontificated, his wife worked all hours to keep things from falling apart.

    This was not the view of an outsider, it was the view of a child, now grown up.
    Every time I see the guru’s books, or read about efforts towards extreme self-sufficiency, I am reminded of this meeting, and confirm in my own mind just how far I am/am not willing to simplify my life!

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