Wants, Needs, Chook Tractors and Learning to Budget

I recently made the decision to purchase a chook tractor (mobile chicken run). I got very excited, because we can’t really put our chooks in our veggie garden (aka weed farm) at all now, with risking the dog eating them, because from there they can get up onto the deck. Plus, the kids shut the dog in the veggie garden the other day* and he pushed a whole through the fence that keeps him out of said garden. That’s easily fixed (I hope) but just shows that that fence is not really dog proof, if he’s motivated to get through.

We used to have our chokes in a home made (by my brother though, not us) chook tractor, but it was made out of bits and pieces of timber we’d salvaged which weren’t necessarily all that appropriate for the job, and eventually it fell apart (ie rotted). I’m sure if we really put our minds to it we could make another one – in fact I’ve been wanting to make chook domes a la Linda Woodrow for years – but at the moment we have a few other projects on the go (particularly getting ready for an overseas trip) and we just cannot fit that one in this Spring.

So, I got all excited about the idea of buying one of these  (even though I’d prefer one of these, but they are just a little too pricey). I was a little concerned about finding the money, but then the Mister reminded me about some money we have put aside, that I had somehow completely forgotten about. So I started planning how we could rotate the chooks over the veggie garden – rearranging the beds a little for a better fit – to get rid of all those weeds so we could actually plant seedlings out later in the Spring.

Then I looked up the bank statement of the account we had that money in, and I’m sure you’ve guessed already what I saw. We transferred (most of) that money into our main account months ago to pay school fees. That’s why I’d forgotten it was there – because it wasn’t! It’s amazing how much savings you go through when one of you is on (unpaid) maternity leave for a couple of years.

Now, we do still have enough money in the bank to buy that chicken tractor if we really want it. But we have other expenses coming up, like the ongoing school fees, we’re about to get cavity wall insulation put in, we might need some plumbing work done… So probably we should just leave the money where it is, and do without a chook tractor for another year. And without a vegetable garden for another season if necessary.

I recently introduced a guest post on Sustainable Suburbia by talking about how living within one’s means is an important aspect of sustainable living. Living on credit – or on savings – is just not sustainable for the long-term. I think I need to take some of my own advice. I will soon be negotiating a return to work, as my parental leave entitlement is coming to an end, which could mean

a) I go back two days per week and the mister drops down to three days, which because of the disparity in our salaries (and may I say that I always earned more than him before we had children?), means we’ll likely be worse off than we are now, though I haven’t looked into it properly yet, taking into account tax rates and things, or
b) I go back almost three days and he drops down to three days, we find childcare for Eliane on the shared work day, and I finish in time to pick the kids up from school at 3pm, in which case we should be slightly better off than we are now, financially speaking (as long as we are not using paid childcare), or
c) (if I can’t negotiate hours that work for us) I end up quitting my job altogether and we stick with our current arrangement.

So what all this means is that pretty much regardless of our work situation next year, we need to start budgetting better and sticking to it. Which likely means, no chook tractor just now.


*Our yard is divided into three unequal sections – from smallest to largest: veggie garden and paved clothes hanging area (maybe 1/5 of the yard or a bit less) chook run  & access to shed (about 1/3 of the yard); the rest – containing the ‘lawn’, the deck, the swing set and the big boofy Labrado (actually, if you include the deck area in the calculation, this is probably easily 3/4 of the yard in total).

The first Canberra Urban Homesteader’s Group meeting and whatnot

Today I attended the first ever Canberra (& surrounds) Urban Homesteaders meeting, and it was really awesome. We had about nine people attend, interestingly eight women and one man. I’m not sure what they means!

There were a whole lot of different skills and variations on the homesteading theme, with probably the one common feature being the desire, and/or plans, to do more.

Nigerian Dwarf Goat, Photo by 'Just Chaos' (flckr)Conversation veered from chicken house designs to garden plans, discussions about food preservation to hunting feral goats. Or raising cute little Nigerian Dwarf goats for milk. Bee keeping came up to, though none of us currently do it. I learned that you can only harvest native bees’ honey in the warmer climates where there is plenty of pollen for them year ’round – down here in chilly Canberra they can only produce just enough honey to see themselves through the winter. There’s none to spare for hungry humans. Oh, and there were a couple of architects there who design sustainable houses! Maybe one day we will be able to afford to have them design us an extension to our house 🙂

We each introduced ourselves with a bit of our homesteading story, but typically I didn’t feel I did a very good job, covering our currently defunct vegie garden, but failing to talk at all about our fabulous solar system, our focus on energy efficiency, our somewhat nebulous plans to collect rainwater, or my current sort-of-focus on learning to be just a little bit more handy – though I did finish the rib section of the hat I am knitting for Eliane, while I was there.

A while ago (probably several years in fact), Rhonda from Down to Earth had a meme going asking people to write a little about where they are on their journey. I never got around to it, but maybe I will do it now!

In other news, we still have not go our solar system turned on, but supposedly the inspection will happen before the end of this month, and then we will finally be self-sufficient in electricity at least!

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