Environment, sustainability and silly behaviours.

I really believe we all try to be environmentally conscious in our daily behaviour. That is of course when we are conscious; ruling out the morning after the country dance. You know the morning, where you make the walk of shame past all the critters patiently waiting for breakfast, their heads hanging over or through the fence. A little snicker or snort out of them does wonders to reanimate the guilt complex we all carry with us.

But that is not their intention. No, the farm animals are all optimistic critters. Watching the lambs tear around, the horses galloping across the field and the dog knowing you will throw that stick is a mirror to us all. We work the farms, the ranches, even the hobby farms because we are optimistic of the future, and of the human condition.

But guilt is a powerful motivator. Sometimes it’s the wrong motivator. With sustainability and environmental practices, guilt has crept into country life overshadowing our optimism. It is the guilt we carry when we spray the fields with liquids one step short of agent orange, of knowing our meat chicks came from some willie-wonka-gone-mad factory, and making our perennial mortgage payments to the hardware/feed store.

Somehow, greater forces pushing against our optimism of the future and our optimism of each other has dumped this guilt on us.

Much of that guilt is a result of limited choices imposed on us by those who need us most. Somehow defining the worth of our lifestyle has been usurped by the grocery chains, the sundry manufacturers and suppliers with corporate offices surrounded by blacktop and concrete.  It comes from cities, like the one I have to spend my money in. The town that claims having a few chickens in the urban backyard is the first step towards agrarian anarchy. You know,  democratic rule by friendly folk in coveralls. Heaven forbid; make it a crime.

Mind you, there are the odd city conveniences that we could consider for sustainability. Just the other day I saw a posting for a new “country home”. Three car garage, pool, 3 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. But it had this neat foot washer by the toilet. They call it a bidet. City folk must use it to wash their feet after walking the dog. Sure be handy after mucking out the steer pen. Save on water too.

Anyway, I say we should push back. It is time for all of us to climb on top of the manure pile (if the goat lets us of course) and shout out to all that we are still the true stewards of sustainability, keepers of the environment.

Pushing back means getting back on the path; walking the walk. Been trying to do this over the last year. Become a bit of a zealot actually.

No more buying lumber or firewood anymore . Saving some trees and recycling pallets.

Firewood pile and pallets

The logs came from an ad I posted in Kijiji looking for firewood in 8ft lengths. Heartwarming to see how many people are willing to put time in to ensure the trees they fall actually find a use.

Steer Shed-Pallet LumberThis shelter (32ft X 8ft)was built from pallets, and a hodge podge of roofing I scrounged. Cost about $35 for hardware. The lumber pile is from pallets. Yes, the wife mentions how nice it would look if cleaned up more.


No more kneejerk travel to the hardware or feed store for brand new stuff. Collected all the junk around the property and organized it. Amazing how many ball valves, roofing screws and fence posts I have.


No more heating up the whole chicken coop. Check out this nifty 1942 brooder plan that saved us a bundle in energy costs. Just brought it up to the 21st century.


Built with plywood from old bleachers, pallet wood framing and an extension cord piece that had been run over about a hundred times. About $8.

No more getting sucked in by the glossy ads for expensive stuff. Ask an old time neighbour how they did it before. Built some nifty sheep feeders from recycled plywood after being invited to study the neighbours feeder. Very little wastage anymore.


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Decided to use pallets for a feeder for the 4-H Steers. Again, minimal wastage.


Of course this means you will have piles of stuff; wood, irrigation pipe, roofing. So what. Your place will actually look like a real country place. That’s not junk. It’s a promise of future projects. Tell the wife you intend to use these to make her life easier. You will get the muttering under her breath, but she will grudgingly let the piles be. I promise.

Way back if you did not have it, or your neighbour could not spare it, you did not need it. I was about to go buy some sheets of styrofoam insulation for our monster guardian dog’s house. As the neighbour was shearing our sheep he asked why I was not using the wool instead. Keep it dry, keep bugs and pests out of it. It will work fine. So I did, and it works fine.

I want to digress for a moment on the value of our old timer neighbours. Yes, they may shake their head knowing that you don’t know much. But they really want you to succeed. You and your children are what will ensure their lifestyle, their communities will survive. They know you are the future. Remember this when you say hi over the fence and out comes a bit of advice on your irrigation or fencing. They want this lifestyle to work for you.

The point here is a true rural lifestyle is a sustainable lifestyle. You are a friend to the environment because you appreciate your neighbour’s advice, you realize the value of all that junk around the place, and you seek out alternatives to consuming, consuming and consuming. That is the point. We are supposed to be the producers. But we have to rethink how to be a producer. Really, it’s simple physics. More going out of our property than coming in. If we don’t have enough going out, time to be creative in lessening what comes in.

Ok, we can exclude from the equation the horses, and the foofie dog we brought with us from the city. These are pets. Some are really expensive pets. But all the rest should be included, including the kids. Are they conscious of this equation? Go ask them; probably have to send them a note on twitter or something.

I mentioned pallets. Been really lessening the input by recycling pallets.

RV Storage Shed Toolshed Floor Toolshed

RV stuff storage shed and tool shed. All of these were built from recycled pallets, floors from old bleacher plywood, and roofing scrounged off kijiji. Biggest expenses: fuel to get the stuff, screws and hardware, and time…lots of time.


This is actually a small storage shed for the boy’s steer grooming -blower, brushes and such. Got tired of seeing the stuff all over the property. Once it was built and everything was in it I realized a major reason why I’m broke. The spray cans! I had no idea there was not only spray glue for steers, but spray glue remover. And spray paint, and a dozen different heads for the clippers, and the correct ball caps…it just goes on…..and on.

Not only that, but I realized I spend more money on makeup for the steers than for the wife. I hear a country song there.

Front GatesPallets make a nice front gate. Had to build it. The ducks were waddling over to the neighbour’s garden. Not a pretty site.

Lamb pen gate and signLamb pen and shelter.

Not being the type to send out the “we have eggs’ email at work every morning and wander around collecting money and cartons, or cruise the parking lot for unlocked cars that I can surreptitiously throw a few zucchini in, I don’t have a lot in the way of produce outputs. We have chickens and lamb for us and our extended family. We use it to barter for other things like beef and pork. The other morning Marie was heading for the car with a frozen chicken in each hand. “Getting my hair done” was her response to my puzzled look. Farm gal on a mission.

We are getting close to the right amount of output. Cherries, chickens, eggs and lamb for the family. A bit for bartering. Considering honey. But still not exceeding the inputs. That is what I am focussing on. They have all sorts of names for it. Sustainability, lessening one’s ecological footprint; I just know that I can do my part by being aware of what is coming on to my piece of heaven, how I am spending money on it and taking the time to see if there are alternatives. We tend to focus on the outputs, it is easier to measure, it can be seen, touched and tasted. But the inputs are just as important.

Sustainability also costs less. For my projects, a lot less. But it always costs more in time. You see, most products we buy is actually a purchase of time. The fast food, the milled lumber, the fancy tractor. And this costs more than money, it costs us on sustainability and the environment. So, I am beginning to realize a good way to look at sustainability is through my time. Not purchasing time is good for the environment. Spending time, not money is the real sustainable practice.

But sustainability goes well beyond just stuff; inputs and outputs. It includes our hearts.