We live on the Otago Peninsula, about 30 minutes out of Dunedin, and have been there six years now. The views pretty much sold us on the place I guess. Husband could see if the sea was flat enough to go fishing so he was happy. There were paddocks (albeit steep!) with grass enough for horses so I was happy. The state of the house (partly-finished shell), alternative power system and composting toilet seemed to be putting people off as it had been on the market for some time... turned out to be a godsend for us. Things have a way of working out somehow.
We thought we were fairly open-minded, yet were planning on putting in a septic tank when we moved in because we didn't know what the composting toilet would be like. It didn't help that the previous owners had lined the room with corrugated iron to give it that "outhouse" feel. But after realising just how great they are, I wouldn't go back to the 'normal' type. It never smells as it has a fan that constantly draws air down and away (we hate using 'normal' toilets when out now, erk yuck, they pong!). It is also a great feeling knowing that we are fertilising our trees and not polluting the sea. It only needs emptying once a year, and what is removed is lovely compost, no smell at all. Those lovely little worms do a great job!
We also had a quote to have mains power connected, but with the estimate at between 12-20K we decided to see how things went with the alternative system. We knew diddly-squat about how it worked, but with a bit of research and a few tips from the lsb neighbour who also had wind power and had been involved in setting our system up (another godsend!), we soon figured things out. Of course there were a few teething problems... but it has been worth it. We have a 48V wind turbine, 3 battery banks, an inverter-charger, and a backup generator. Due to living in a very exposed windy site we rarely need the gennie, though when we started there was only one bank of dodgy batteries which only gave us a couple of days if there was no wind. Now, when the batteries are fully-charged, we can last about a week if need be before running the gennie (it doesn't happen often that there's no wind for a week though!).
The house runs like any other house (the inverter just bumps the power up to 230/240V so everything runs just the same), so there's nothing hugely different about being off-grid. The main issue is that our breadmaker won't run as we have an old inverter - one day we will get a flash new one and it will! But seriously I suppose there are a few differences... we don't leave lights on in rooms we are not using, we have gas hobs and a gas oven, energy-efficient lightbulbs, an energy-efficient fridge and big chest freezer - these are standard models in northern Europe where they care about energy consumption. They are comparable in price to buying a new fridge or freezer here, and use much less power (our average-sized fridge uses less power than a F&P bar fridge a third its size). We actually did the first few months with no fridge or freezer at all - the bonus of moving in during winter, the milk etc. stayed quite cold enough outside the front door. Pretty much all things that anyone who wants to reduce power consumption can do, regardless of being on or off-grid (not meaning to include the lack of fridge in that statement, it did have some drawbacks!). We also tend to sweep rather than vacuum (have no carpet yet anyway). Likewise we generally toast under the gas grill rather than use a toaster if there isn't much wind. We don't use electric heaters, but the woodburner is more than adequate. It has a wetback for hot water heating, and we have a gas califont for summer. Eventually we'll have solar water heating for summer as well, but that's not top of the priority list just yet. (One day we'll have carpet and curtains too... but they're a looong way down the list!).
The first animal on the property was a horse (the week we moved in). Ever since I was old enough to talk all I ever wanted was a horse. So I was finally able to realise my childhood dream (and hubby is still waiting for me to "grow out of my 2nd childhood"). A second horse and two in-lamb coloured ewes joined us shortly after... definitely not overstocked on our 20 acres... so we borrowed the neighbours 20-odd Hereford cows & calves over the summer too. The sheep flock grew to a whole dozen with some bought-in coloured ewes. An East Friesian ram who lived down the road then came to live with us and numbers began to grow...
After a few years we were fortunate to be able to convince the farmer who owned the adjoining 60 acres to part with it, so we were very excited to now have more room to play. About half is in steep manuka bush which we will one day fence off to regenerate properly back to native bush. There are a few lovely lancewood, kowhai & lacebark trees scattered amongst it already, and we revel in being able to wander with the dogs on our own place where they can race, bark, chase rabbits & possums and do whatever they like. Sheep numbers have increased the last few years, and we currently have about 100 ewes. The horse collection grew rapidly too, plus breeding two foals... up to 6 at one stage, but have rationalised and now down to just the three (very easy to accumulate, exceedingly hard to say goodbye to!). Recent additions are Milka (little jersey/friesian cow) with two calves, and a bunch of baby chickens.
We didn't really 'choose' to farm what we have, it has tended to evolve. With mostly fairly steep country the sheep are better suited than larger animals, though with the additional block we now have some gently rolling land (were able to make our own hay last summer - with the neighbours' help - which was fantastic!) and I would like to diversify with some cows which will better utilise feed and give more options with cross-grazing for parasite reduction. Currently deciding which path to go down regarding breeds (but they will be smallish & polled!).
Neither of us really have a farming background, although any chance I had I would be poking around and helping out on friend's farms. There have been many things to learn but I enjoy researching new things especially if animal-related (did Zoology/Ecology degrees), and we have been extremely lucky to have fabulous farming neighbours (now very good friends!) who were there to help with our first bearing, our first assisted lambing, first haymaking, and are always there to turn to for advice or just to bounce ideas from. (Yes we help them out too!).
Future plans... there are so many! I guess the long-term ideal is to reach a more self-sufficient state, have huge vege and herb gardens, fruit trees, eat our own eggs, chook, milk, cheese, beef, pork, lamb (or hogget - much tastier), wild rabbit, venison (if a deer ever manages to trip over in front of a bullet, no such luck so far), plus fish, paua, crays... one of these days I'm going to have a play at harvesting seaweed (some of them are really tasty). There is something hugely appealing and satisfying about living from the land & sea. Such delight in eating an entirely "home-grown" meal. The more we learn and grow and evolve, the more we want to return to basics. What a paradox.
Would like to farm more organically long-term, but we'll have to work up to it. There is a lot of gorse, broom, burdock, thistles and ragwort to get under control, some of it is not manageable for us without some spray use at this stage, especially as we both currently also work. Have yet to decide which direction to go with the sheep - have played with Wiltshire rams this year but haven't made up our minds whether we want to keep wool-growing sheep or not yet. We will always keep a few coloured sheep, have done some hand-spinning and learnt to knit, made a couple of woolly hats so were quite proud of ourselves! Whichever way we go we'll continue with clean bellied/bottomed girls, the EF crosses are lovely, we never need to crutch. Also working towards more parasite-resistant sheep, although what we have already seem to do well on fairly limited drench treatment. We do our own FECs (fecal egg counts), and going to play more with ACV (apple cider vinegar) based herbal drenches and monitor effectiveness.
What do we wish we'd known when we first started... that it is advisable to check the sex of sheep you are buying despite what you're told. Why didn't we think it was odd that one of the lovely 6 coloured girls that we bought (having just weaned lambs) was much fatter than the others, and had much nicer wool? You would think the fact that "she" did not have an udder would have rung alarm bells. We wondered why "she" wasn't very nice natured and had a penchant for getting through fences for no apparent reason. We had them shorn and the shearer asked why we had a crypt. Doh! However, there is always something to be gained by mistakes, - we knew that we would certainly not crypt any ram lambs we bred, it's goodbye goolies at our place!
What are the benefits we see in living on an lsb? Everything! Even on the worst possible day, like when I had to pull out decaying aborted lambs in the pelting rain the year we had toxoplasmosis, or the end of a long week of foul weather up to your knees in mud, fighting mudfever on the horses' legs, the sheep decide there is no longer a gateway where there has always been one and won't go through when you desperately need to move them, the rabbits and possums destroy your plantings... there's never even a fleeting thought of selling up and moving to town - that would be the moment I truly went insane. I have the greatest of difficulty dragging myself away from our patch of paradise, and if I do get away for a day or two I spend most of the time wondering how all my "family" are! Sure, there is a huge amount of fencing, shelter planting, shed building, yard building, weed control, house finishing (ha, that's well down the list - but we're not inside much anyway), and all the day to day maintenance... plus the dreams of vege & herb gardens, orchards, dressage arenas... but it is a work in progress, and as they say, good things take time...
Sometimes you have to step back and just smell the roses.