Off grid living
Like many people, our desire to try off-grid living was a reaction to the issues of climate change and uncertainty. These now seem to be an inescapable fact of life in the 21st century. We decided to become more self reliant whilst working with other like minded families to establish a resilient community. As a result that stretches from our immediate neighbourhood right across the island of Ireland.
Lackan Cottage Farm has become a centre for practical sustainability. We are the first accredited LAND (Learning and Network Demonstration) centre on the island of Ireland, and we are pioneering Green Tourism by becoming the first Green Key business in the country, as recognition of our commitment to sustainability.
We came from ‘regular’ 9-5 jobs, typical levels of modern debt and exhaustion, and decided to give it up to live in a converted horsebox while volunteering on a friend’s farm. From there we found Lackan Cottage Farm and established our own smallholding using permaculture and organic principles.
We do most things for ourselves, and then share the skills we have learned with visitors. This can be through courses, open days, visitors to Birch Eco Cottage or the Off Grid Horsebox or with the many international volunteers that we welcome each year.
Our aim is to substantially meet our energy, food, water and waste requirements from our smallholding. Furthermore, to provide a healthy and ecologically sound environment in which visitors can learn from our experiences. We show how it is possible to live in a more sustainable manner without compromising their standard of living.
We offer our self catering cottage and off grid horse box alongside short practical courses. These are based on a variety of ecological themes, as well as offering an ‘off grid experience’ to those seeking to live more self reliantly. Furthermore, rising food and energy prices along with recent revelations about the complexity of the modern food chain mean that interest in home food production, and living ‘The Good Life’ are at an all time high. We realise that for many people, taking this to the level that we have is not practical, however there are many aspects that they will be able to take away and adapt to fit into their lifestyles.
Food is a vital part of off grid living, and we grow many of our own vegetables, both outside and in polytunnels. Also, we are planting an orchard which will provide all our fruit needs. We also keep hens, principally for eggs, but also for occasional meat. We are members of GIY (Grow It Yourself) Ireland, and as part of a local network are able to barter. This allows us obtain all the vegetables we need, as well as a proportion of our meat. We shop locally wherever possible and are always keen to support local business.
Cooking, central heating and domestic hot water are fuelled using wood produced from our own woodland. This is coppiced to ensure that we have a constant supply of timber. In addition to the existing woodland, we have planted an additional 1000 or so trees over the last few years, and continue to add to that total each season. Also we have solar hot water heating to boost the supply. This provides domestic hot water in the summer when lighting a woodburner is less desirable.
The woodlands are far more than a source of fuel, and we manage them carefully to encourage biodiversity. Also they are a wonderful space in which to sit or walk. Small pockets of woodland such as this are vanishing all to rapidly from our landscape and as custodians we want to leave them in better shape than we found them.
Off grid living is an attitude
We’ve come to realise that ‘off grid living’ is more than just the act of not using mains electricity or water. It’s an attitude and there are as many variations out there as there are people. For us it’s about independence and resilience. When we first thought of living off grid, it was primarily through necessity. This meant a combination of wanting less bills to come in and of living at that time in a converted horsebox.
Mains electricity, water and waste weren’t an option, and so a couple of solar panels and a little wind turbine provided power. We collected rainwater from the barn roof, and used the composting loo on the farm. It was a basic system that met our needs, and was also great to learn with, without costing a fortune or risking too much.
We’re learning about and building systems that will hopefully see us through many years to come. Then hopefully we won’t have to worry about what is being added to our water supply by a company we can’t hold accountable. Also we won’t have to fret over the rising cost of electricity as old power stations are retired, and a combination of poor policy and changing climate take their toll.
As much as anything, being off grid is about taking responsibility for your power, heating, lighting, water, and waste. The latter involved building composting loos, of which I am very fond, if one can be fond of a loo.
All the electricity used here at Lackan – in both cottages – is generated on site using a combination of solar pv and wind. Our original installation comprised just two 80w solar panels and a 400w wind turbine. That has grown over the years to around 4kw of solar pv and a 3.5kw wind turbine. This all charges a set of 1000ah tubular plate lead acid batteries (basically what you would find on a forklift). The 24v DC that comes from the batteries is then inverted to 240v AC by a pair of Victron Multiplus inverters, and fed to the cottages as if it were coming from the main grid.
We also use solar thermal panels to heat water in both cottages. These are very effective during the summer months when the fires are lit less often.
From time to time we run courses in renewable energy, contact us if you are interested in being kept up to date with details of forthcoming courses.
Horses are such a part of our lives that we couldn’t be without them. Our current lads both arrived via Hollys Horse Rescue, who do amazing work dealing with unwanted, abandoned and otherwise destitute horses. Mel here was a racehorse, having run 24 times, until he fractured a knee and needed to be retired. Presumably the owner didn’t want to be responsible for a horse that couldn’t run, and so he wound up at Hollys. Now back in riding work, he is a complete gentleman, and we potter around the lanes here. There is no better way to travel.
Rain hasn’t had such a privileged upbringing. By the age of three he’s spent much of his time shut in a shed, the muck caked on him so thickly that it had to be cut off in places. He was thin, wormy, and had terrible lice. A couple of years on, he’s twice the horse (literally) and a picture of health. An amazingly clever little horse, he can easily undo most door catches and clips and is a fast learner. We ride him, and he also works in harness to haul things around the farm.
From a permaculture perspective it can be hard to justify having horses for pleasure, but their benefits are many. Psychologically, spending time with horses is incredibly therapeutic. The horses also produce prolific quantities of manure, which all goes onto our vegetable beds, and is amazing stuff. We’re also now working Rain on the land.
If you would like to support the work that Hollys do, please give them a donation via their website – http://www.hollyshorsehaven.com/donate-hollys
At Lackan Cottage Farm, our hens are truly free range. Kept in small flocks of 8-10, each with a rooster to keep an eye on them, they are free to roam within large netted areas on our paddocks, and moved around every few days so that they always have access to fresh grazing, and manure the paddocks as they go. Small flock sizes mean that there is no bullying or pecking within the flock, and we are able to monitor their health individually. They are fed a diet of GM free layers pellets and corn in the colder months.
We run courses throughout the year, on a variety of subjects. These range from pole lathe turning, willow basket making, to permaculture, off grid living, renewable energy and others. Some we teach ourselves, others like woodwork and basket making are taught by friends who specialise in those crafts. In many cases, running a course is about sharing the skills as much as anything else. Accordingly we are conscious to try and keep courses as affordable as possible.
If there is something you’d like to see taught here, or you teach a particular skill, craft or want to share knowledge with others, give us a shout and perhaps we can organise something for you.