On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

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Elleth
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On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 2:54 am

One of the things I’ve appreciated most about best historical reenactors I’ve known has been the sense of deep authenticity one gets seeing them. They don’t look an actor wearing a costume: it’s as if they literally fell out of the past.

That impression is magic… and is made out of countless tiny details, each done just right. And I think it’s something done here as well, which is amazing.

Anyhow - since not everyone in love with Middle Earth or the real medieval period gets to experience the countless unspoken realities of rural life that near everyone in those settings knew intimately, I thought I'd share the following. Perhaps it may help a bit in providing food for thought over deep authenticity in one's kit - or even give a taste of the mental world one's persona inhabits.

And so - onward!


Out from the door where it began...

Our home is in rural New England, close enough in climate to Tolkien's England I think to be broadly applicable to the Dúnedain of Eriador. Having a diesel tractor and electricity and a town in driving distance make it unspeakably easier, but the seasons and soil are probably close enough that we can make some good suppositions about the mundane life skills of Eriador.


Let's transport our farm to Middle Earth then: how many Rangers could we field? What could we supply them with? What would the realities of their daily life be like?
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Elleth
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 2:57 am

Part I: Food

One night I turned to my husband and asked - "if we had no power, no gas, but had to subsist here - how many people do you think the farm could support?

We mulled the acreage, the animals.. did some educated guesswork, and came to around 10 adults, give or take. Of those, a good estimate is that only three or four would be fit to be rangers, at best. What’s worse, those 3-4 would also be our strongest, most able workers - and when those three are off hunting orc they're not helping with the fields.

There's a reason the sheltered Shire is so much richer in the comforts of life than their neighbors - security is terribly expensive in that most precious of resources- talented lives!

So what do we have to work with, and what can we produce?

So far the most we've run at once is three hogs, two sheep, and a couple dozen chickens - plus hayfields and vegetable garden. It makes a wonderful supplement to our diet: all of our eggs and most of our meat comes from the farm, but we’re a far cry from self sufficient. If we had to be with our current acreage, we could put in more root crops (medieval turnips or Shire 'taters, either one) for just raw calories, and we'd probably have turn over at least one of our hayfields to grain.

That comes with a cost though - that’s the hay our animals eat when the grass isn’t up. This is one of the first lessons you learn: the limiting factor with medieval technology and markets is not the animals' reproductive capacity, but the cost of feeding them through the winter.


A farm is a precise resource management game. Grass grazed by livestock in the summer won't be available for haying, so can't feed those same animals come winter. Chickens constrained to a run will pick it clean in a few weeks: chickens left to wander free range will be easy pickings for predators. Everything you do is balanced against everything else.

All those “live a self sufficient life on 5 acres” books are hopelessly optimistic I’m afraid.


Let’s run some numbers.


Assuming Sturbridge Village's estimate of 15 bushels/acre and our biggest hayfield of 3 acres... around 45 bushels of wheat. Let's average out white and whole-wheat yields for that, and assume around 50 lbs flour/acre: that's 2250 pounds of wheat. I use about a pound of flour (3+cups) for our bread, so.. around 6 loaves a day - each person gets a little over half a loaf of bread a day IF everything goes right.


That same land in potatoes (modern varieties anyhow) does a little better I'm told - but either way we lose our most productive hayfield.


So.. let’s summarize: what does that mean for your Ranger impression?


Take Aways:
  • Grain stores best as raw kernels rather than flour: and processing that flour to the fine white stuff in the grocery store is a time and calorie intensive process. Your trail bread will likely have as much whole wheat as refined white flour in it: it may even have some coarsely ground bits of wheat berries or groats in the mix. For that matter, if you’re on a long trek, you may even have a bag of groats or other unground grain in your baggage.
  • Cows give a lot of milk when they’re nursing. The heritage breeds less than the modern ones, but you’re still talking gallons per day. You can’t afford to waste those calories: you’re going to have some hard cheese in your bag almost certainly.
  • Contrariwise, meat is expensive especially in the off season.
    The flipside of this is that your trail food won’t differ from your regular diet as much as it does in the modern world. Without refrigeration, it’s all salt pork, hams, charcuterie, and other preserved meats. Heck - you’ll likely eat fresher meat on the trail. :)
Last edited by Elleth on Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 2:59 am

I have a feeling he would look fairer, but feel fouler…
Part II: Clothing

This may be harder yet than food.


We now have six sheep - big fluffly Icelandics that with luck will give us a fair amount of wool next spring. They’re still not as productive as some modern breeds: I just weighed one of our fleeces from last year, and it comes to just over eight pounds.

Assuming only a little waste, our small herd will give us enough wool to replace around 6 blankets or the equivalent in clothing a year. That’s not much - barely enough to keep up with wear, especially given we’re all doing physical labor all year. We could stretch that some by letting the herd get bigger and slaughtering at least half of them once the pasture starts to die back for winter: that strains the pasture a bit more than I’d like, but if it’s safe enough to let a teenager shepherd the herd up the back hillside, it might be doable. He could take a wolf or two certain sure, but an orc band? Is it worth the risk?


Here in the real world, we’ve got no flax for linen planted at all - and flax is a tall grass that likes the same kind of ground as wheat or hay. So we’re right back to our resource management game. Have enough bread, your animals might go hungry over winter. Ensure you have enough hay, you might be down to rags by next fall. Everything costs.

As an aside, I once came across a reference to a settlement in frontier Appalachia that either had a bad flax harvest or wasn’t able to get one planted for some reason: they spent the year in deerskins. This is one compensatory advantage the Dunedain share with our American frontier ancestors: a much greater access to wildlife than real-world medieval commoners.

Take Aways:
  • Lots of field-expedient repairs. Patching. Threadbare spots. Stains of mud and blood.
  • Probably more use of deerskin than in historical clothing especially for Rangers - though for verisimilitude's sake, I’d expect bark or oak tanned rather than the smoked braintan buckskin of American natives.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:02 am

I love not the sword for its sharpness...
Part III: Arms and Armor


Funnily enough, I think this might actually be the easiest part.

Middle Earth has been contested ground for millennia, good steel kept well ages slowly, and the fairly static technological world means arms simply don't go out of date. Swords can be dinged and stoned smooth until they're scrap, maille can rust or be burst - but by and large arms age very well compared to their human owners.

In the wreck of Arnor, it's not at all unreasonable that we'd have several shirts of (aged and mended) maille and a rack of somewhat pitted and nicked but still quite serviceable swords and spears at hand for the worst. Our Rangers would of course be outfitted with the best we could provide, but putting *something* dangerous into the hands of every adult able to carry it probably won't be an issue. Our biggest challenge would I think be keeping our Rangers stocked with arrows - elder children would be cutting and fletching as soon as they could do a decent job of it, and some of the dreary winter months will be spent preparing shafts.




Take Aways:
  • Whereas a young Norse man might find a sword prohibitively expensive, and a full panoply only a dream, his Ranger counterpart is fairly well appointed. His sword might be old and is almost certainly scarred, but he’s got one if he wants it.
  • There’s a good chance he’s not got as many arrows in his quiver as he’d like.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:05 am

What has it got in its pockets, Precious?
Part IV: Accouterments:


Those of you who've moved into your first new home have certainly felt a certain sudden panic - you need a cookpot. And a cutting board. And a knife. And some plates. And towels. And and and…

A farm is much like that - but on a whole greater order of magnitude. Sickles, hoes, plows, traces, food bowls, water buckets.. The sheer amount of stuff you need to drag calories out of the earth is just incredible.

And here is another place where in Eriador we are fairly well off, even considering the collapse of the Northern Kingdoms. On the American frontier all these countless pieces of infrastructure were made in place, brought over deerpaths on the backs of mules, or floated downriver.

The realms of Eriador share more with the European countryside than the wooly American frontier: there are thousands of years of material history, with apparently fairly static technology. Even given the collapse of the Northern kingdom, this is a godsend for the scattered peoples of the north.

Today in New England, I can walk into an antique store and and purchase a cooking pot made in the eighteenth century or before - and I can put it in my fireplace and USE it. Cast iron implements last for generations. Even when they finally crack, you’ve still got workable scrap. Just the sheer amount of scrap iron and bronze gives the remaining men in Eriador a great advantage our frontier forebears were sorely lacking.


Take Aways:
  • Surprisingly well appointed metal kit given the state of the world.
  • Your iron or heavy copper kettle may look the worse for wear, but it was likely nicely crafted and may be nicely ornamented. Thinner copper or tinware may be patched, but you can almost certainly afford *something*. Likewise the buckles on your gear, that recycled bronze pommel on your dagger, a centuries-old silver medallion on your cloak, or a family ring dating to the days of Arnor - metal goods can last a long time.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Greg » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:08 am

Anything else to add to the Encyclopedia of Elleth for the day?

THAT one really was interesting. Nice new perspective to bounce my gear list(s) off of. Realism is what it's all about, so this is a great sounding board. Thanks!
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Elleth
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:09 am

Nope - all done.

That's been sitting mostly finished in my google docs "drafts" folder for a year or so. Good to finally get it off my plate! :mrgreen:
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Udwin » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:16 am

Aaaaahhhhh I am LOVING this! Not to interrupt the flow, but for textiles, nettle seems almost on equal footing with flax in the old European archeology. If you have a good patch of them available off-property, you can still have fibres for fabric without sacrificing arable land. (Was on my mind since I spent a good chunk of my afternoon in seasonal Beorning gear, gathering a giant bundle from my patch while practicing other 'deep' skills.)
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Peter Remling » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:30 am

Enjoyed that very much.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Harper » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:48 am

Great insights!

A self-sustaining farm is truly a marvelous mini-ecosystem.


Some random thoughts:

-Fallow should be factored into crop yields. It was a common practice in Europe.

-I could see a farm in Eriador having a small orchard (apple, peach, etc.) and brambles. Their fruit could also be used for preserves and spirits. They were also far less labor intensive.

-I could almost guarantee that land would be reserved for an herb garden. You got to keep everbody healthy.

-There would also have to be trees available for a lot of fuel.


The big proviso is..."if everything goes right." Weather is always the big variable. And war.


Thanks for your posts. They were very well thought out and presented.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elwindil » Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:48 am

Another thing to consider is the farther away from a town you get, the more things you'll need to keep on hand for repairing what ever farm tools you do happen to have, as well as all the tools you need just to keep the farmhouse and barn repaired. things like nails and shingles and boards, panes of glass to repair windows, or just rolls of screen and some well made shutters to keep the wind and weather out if you don't keep glass windows. Skill sets required are things I've given some thought to since I'd eventually like to have my own land to live off of with a few close friends and family. Of course, most of the skills lean towards a more modern and less middle earth/middle ages approach and involve firearms, but many of those skills can be transposed to a lower tech approach.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Elleth » Sun Nov 20, 2016 3:37 pm

Thanks all! Great comments! :)

Not to interrupt the flow, but for textiles, nettle seems almost on equal footing with flax in the old European archeology. If you have a good patch of them available off-property, you can still have fibres for fabric without sacrificing arable land.

That makes PERFECT sense. I'll have to start looking for nettle fabrics to experiment with.

I could see a farm in Eriador having a small orchard (apple, peach, etc.) and brambles. Their fruit could also be used for preserves and spirits. They were also far less labor intensive.

Absolutely - our orchard and vineyard are still too young to produce anything - next year I hope to start seeing our first grapes, but the tree fruits are years off still.

Interestingly, New England has something in common with Eridaor - it's been farmed for centuries, but in lots of places the forest has grown back. That means along some old abandoned overgrown roads you can find grapevines climbing wild into the trees, knotty old apple trees, and such. I'm fairly certain natural selection quickly pushes them into less sweet varieties, but they're still a nice surprise to come across. I don't know if they'd still be here after a thousand years of neglect - but certainly after a half century or more they're doing great: grape vines are almost a weed in some places around here.

The big proviso is..."if everything goes right." Weather is always the big variable. And war.

Oh heavens yes.

In truth, I wrote most of the essay above in a bit of an emotional funk after our first large animal slaughter last year: lessons from the farm.
One of the things that kept occurring to me is just how critical manpower is to scratch out a life, and just what it costs when your strongest and healthiest march to the call.

When "Ranger extra #3" takes an orc arrow to the chest, that's just a ratcheting up of tension on the screen.

In the real world, that's not just an emotional loss, it's an economic catastrophe. Death of a (say) twenty five year old man?
That's decades of fields that won't be plowed, orchards that won't be planted, buildings that can't be maintained.
That's generations of children who won't be conceived.

Whole future worlds die. :(


Skill sets required are things I've given some thought to since I'd eventually like to have my own land to live off of with a few close friends and family.

Good luck, and stick to it! It took us twenty years to get here: it's more than worth it. :)
Practicing all those skills now (and building up a toolbox) will help to no end once you finally get there.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Kortoso » Mon Nov 21, 2016 5:53 pm

Elleth wrote:Assuming only a little waste, our small herd will give us enough wool to replace around 6 blankets or the equivalent in clothing a year. That’s not much - barely enough to keep up with wear, especially given we’re all doing physical labor all year.

I'm leaping into this late; with apologies.

Are you really wearing out the equivalent of six blankets a year? And can you really weave that much wool fabric by hand in a year?
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Straelbora » Mon Nov 21, 2016 6:34 pm

What a great post! We finally took possession of our 'country house,' on 13 wooded, hilly acres. There's the old 1930s farm house I'm turning into the Dragons Wood Inn, but we've been plotting where to put the kitchen garden next to the new house, to compliment the one next to the old house. Since this is our eventual retirement property, we're there on weekends and more during vacations, so no livestock.

As it's mostly hills and trees, we don't have acreage for putting in flax, hay, wheat, etc. However, in real life, if the national or global economy crashed, we're across the road from hundreds of acres nice bottom land that is used to raise corn and soybeans by a farmer down the valley. If the national or international markets collapsed, much of it is county land that we could likely plant for subsistence.

Without starting a political firestorm here, let's just say that my history degree and years dealing with economic refugees as an immigration lawyer makes me believe that we are more likely to see a financial collapse in the US over the next few years than we have since my 87 year old mother spent her childhood. As such, I've been thinking a lot about sustainability, and how many people our land could support.

I suppose I could start buying up non-gasoline dependent farm equipment 'just in case,' and buy and set aside seed stock, but it's not like I can buy some 'seed pigs' and keep them in a cool, dry place "just in case." I guess I could find some local sheep and pig farmers and pay an 'option' to reserve some lambs and piglets for purchase later.

Your no-nonsense evaluation of how razor-thin the margins of survival were, even in areas of rich soil and favorable weather, is great. As I've written here before, the Dunedain didn't just grow on trees; there had to have been small settlements, where kids could be raised and where Rangers could convalesce. There had to have been a voluntary taxation to help support the Rangers. The Rangers themselves could have been partially funded as long-distance courriers or traders as well.
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Re: On maintaining a Ranger: farm economics and deep authenticity

Postby Harper » Mon Nov 21, 2016 7:13 pm

Straelbora, if you haven't already done so, I hope that you will look into permaculture.

Also, biointensive gardening. I found this to be an outstanding, yet inexpensive resource:
http://www.standeyo.com/Our_Books/GG.html
Unfortunately, it is only available as an e-book.

Orchards and brambles are low maintenance and can give an excellent yield. Brambles grow fast. Red Raspberry offers a good fruit, but more importantly, its leaves are an excellent healing herb. Elderberry does as well (not a bramble).

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