Of Chainsaws and Milking Goats


Novemeber 3, 2011

     In these notes it is common for us to speak of how integrating our life-support systems is beneficial and integral to the health and sustainability of the whole. For example, to reduce forest fire hazards in our conifer forest, we thin out small trees and limb up remaining trees. So, when a forest fire comes through, there is less of a fuel load, the fire burns at a lower intensity and stays close to the ground. We then chip up the biomass generated in stewarding the forest, and one of its uses is as bedding for our laying hens. In addition to being a method of turning woody biomass relatively rapidly into fertile soil, the pine oils in the woodchips serve to reduce the population of roost mites which can be potentially fatal to hens.

forest thinnings ready for use as bedding

     However another way to think about whether we have achieved a healthy integration of systems is the impact they have on our own physical health and well-being. When I first started using a chainsaw, I spent about 2 hours every other day chainsawing for several months in a row. Going from no chainsawing to this sustained frequency of chainsawing made it clear that my body was not quite prepared for the physicality of the job. Specifically my right wrist, the wrist that bears the brunt of the chainsaw weight and is responsible for all the maneuvering. A few months in, I started to develop a severe tendinitis in my right wrist. While sufficiently strong for most day to day tasks, my wrist and forearm just didn't have the muscle strength to support that level of activity and nor did I give them enough time to ease into it. The pain was not debilitating, but it certainly was uncomfortable and I began to wear a wrist support to give my apparently too-weak forearm muscles a little extra help.

     As the seasons changed, the time I spent chainsawing dwindled to almost none for a few months. In that time, my wrist recovered.

     Fast forward to late spring of this year. We begin to wean the goat kids off their mom's milk and start milking Becca once a day. For the past 5 months, I have been milking Becca twice a week. If you have ever hand milked an animal before, you can attest to the finger, wrist, forearm and even tricep and bicep muscle strength you build up. I happen to milk with my right hand.

      Earlier this fall, when I started chainsawing regularly after several months of little to no chainsawing, I half expected to develop some sort of over-use injury in my right wrist again. However, thankfully, this has yet to happen. While I imagine chainsawing has increased the overall strength throughout my right arm, I have a hunch that a primary reason I don't have tendinitis this fall is because of milking. In the months prior to developing the tendinitis, I had not been milking goats, or any animal for that matter--because we lost our milking doe in childbirth.

Alison ready for milking

     So it seems, that just as cross training can benefit an athlete's performance, cross training can also benefit the health and well being of the homesteader, with one task better preparing me to perform another, seemingly unrelated one.

     This leads me to think that aches and pains, potential over-use injuries and relative weakness of certain muscle groups, originate in an unbalance of activities in my daily life, in a similar way to how the generation of waste indicates an unbalanced system or an incomplete cycle. To the degree this is true, I can then use the overall health and wellness of my body as an indicator of whether I am using my time appropriately.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 71