I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about homesteading and whether or not it’s right for everyone. The best answer I could come up with? No, it’s not! There is so much to consider before embarking on a homesteading lifestyle. This list isn’t intended to be negative, it’s real. Hopefully this will give you some very honest, very raw things to think about if you are considering starting a homestead.
Don’t get me wrong- Homesteading is a wonderful way of life. There is no greater closeness with God than seeing a momma cow give birth to her calf, watching vegetables for your table come from a little seed you planted, hearing the “peep-peep” as chicks start to hatch, or simply smelling the aroma of freshly cut pastures. Some of my most peaceful times are walking outside when the sun is just rising to hear the low cackling of the hens as they awaken, and the smell of the dew on the grass and manure. WHAT?! Manure smell? Well, yes, that’s one of the reasons that homesteading isn’t for everyone. Here are the 10 things that I believe you need to seriously consider if you want to homestead-
- How about that Manure? Do you like your shoes to stay clean and free of poo? Well they won’t. Are you willing to deal with the occasional splat as you step in a cow patty, or the even worse splat if your cow has to “go” very near your face when you are milking her? How about chickens? Eggs sometimes have that little extra gift on them when you go to gather them from the coop. Does it bother you to have it on your hands? Now I’m not saying manure is a bad thing. It fertilizes everything wonderfully and naturally. We appreciate all of the manure on our farm and we put it to good use to add nutrients back to our soil in the pastures and gardens. And you will learn to understand your animals health based on their poo. Analyzing manure can be one of the most interesting activities on the homestead. But you have to be prepared for it and the reaction it gets from visitors. There’s nothing more offensive to a homesteader than when someone walks outside and says “eewww! poop!”.
- And that brings up the issue of Animal Health. Just because a member of your livestock world is healthy one day, doesn’t mean they will be okay tomorrow. No matter how good you are at keeping the coops and barns clean and tidy, and protecting everyone from the weather and outside contaminants, animals (just like people) don’t feel well sometimes. It’s really expensive to call the vet out every time an animal isn’t well. I mean REALLY expensive. As a homesteader you won’t be able to afford the vet for every little thing, so it’s important to have a good understanding of animal husbandry. You will learn from your experiences, and will have both success and defeat. There is nothing more rewarding than nursing a sick animal back to health and almost running with them when they get their energy back again. But then, there’s the flip side. They don’t always make it back to good health. Can you handle the loss and grief of losing a favorite milk cow, a beautiful hen, or a playful goat? When you work so closely with your animals a bond develops. Will you be able to help them through each and every stage of life, and maybe death? Sadly, that is part of homesteading reality.
- So how do you Learn all this stuff? You will need to take the time to read, watch videos, and build a community. It’s really attractive to think of moving way out in the country on a lot of land, away from other people. But the reality of that is you have no one to help you if you need it, and probably won’t even have internet. As a homesteader it’s vitally important to get to know your neighbors, your feed store folks, and other farmers. Having a community gives you someone to turn to for help, advice, and just plain conversation. One of the most fulfilling summer afternoons can be just shooting the breeze with a fellow homesteader or farmer and sharing stories. That’s how you can survive a lot of the defeat (and success) you will have on the homestead. It makes a huge difference to realize that you are not alone in all of this. And there’s no better way to build a relationship than helping each other out in an emergency.
- Homesteading Emergencies happen. Homesteading can be dangerous. Not only will you be working closely with animals who can hurt you, you will be using tools and equipment that you may not ever have had a need for before homesteading. Some of this goes back to the “learn stuff” part, but you also need to have good common sense for safety and for figuring things out. And you need to understand some basic first aid.
- Sometimes you just have to Figure it Out. There are loads of things that need to be done and that go on around the homestead that don’t have a manual, and sometimes have no rhyme or reason. I mean, how can that bull actually lift the watering trough and throw it across the field? And how do we keep him from doing it in the future? Or how do I keep the chickens out of the inside of that feeder or the garden? Yes, I could just go to the store and buy some fancy gadget to solve these problems, but town isn’t always close enough to be the first answer. Homesteading takes a creative mind and a desire to come up with alternative ways to make things happen.
- You may have Sleepless Nights. You may have to miss your precious, much needed sleep for several reasons. There may be a member of the farm family who needs help giving birth, a member may be sick and in need of loving company. Or, you may be so sore from your days work that you just can’t get comfortable and toss and turn all night. After our first plowing of the season with our draft horse Maggie, that happened to me! Are you prepared to pull the kind of all-nighters that you thought you left behind you in college? Coffee becomes a really important part of the homestead!
- Do you have Patience or do you get frustrated quickly? I hate to say it so bluntly, but if you are one of those people who gets frustrated quickly and doesn’t like to wait on anything or anyone, then homesteading probably isn’t for you. Just like when we talked about having to figure it out, things can take time. Sometimes you may have to reach out to your community for help, you may have to do a ton of research, and you may still have to work through trial and error just to figure out the most simple thing. Things aren’t as easy as just hopping in the car and buzzing to the nearest big box store for a quick fix. And lots of stuff will get done over, and over, and over again until you get it right. If you lose patience or get frustrated you will just make everyone around you (animals included) on edge and upset. Having a hot temper or wanting to give up quickly just does not work on the homestead.
- How Flexible are you? You can’t plan on having all your ducks in a row (so to speak) every day. Things are going to come up that need immediate attention. And like I just said, it may be something that you thought was taken care of but needs doing over again. You can’t be getting frustrated if your day doesn’t go like you think it should. There will be times that you can’t attend that event you had scheduled, times you can’t take that long soaking bath you wanted, or times you can’t even sit down to rest. Bottom line- the day is going to go according to the homestead.
- Are you ready for the Time Commitment? It’s so amazing to walk outside in the morning and get fresh milk from your cow (or goat), and gather fresh eggs from your coop. And what a breakfast you will have when you serve that up with some fresh sausage from your own pig and toast from your homemade bread. Ah, the romantic side of homesteading. WAIT! Do you realize that that cow has to be milked twice a day, every day, no holidays, no vacations? And those chicken eggs must be gathered every single day? And how many months did it take to raise that pig before she became sausage? And how many hours did that bread have to rise before it could go in the oven? Yes, growing and raising your own food is very rewarding but it’s not quick. And how about that garden- how long did it take for that seed to turn into a seedling, how many hours did you spend in the heat weeding the garden, and how much sweat did you pour as you were harvesting? And don’t forget preserving. Homesteaders are not unlike our ancestors when we talk about Harvest time. Gathering and then canning, freezing, or dehydrating those precious veggies and fruits is beyond a full time job during harvest season.
- What happens if you Burn Out? So, you decide you can manage all these things, you start your homestead and are thrilled beyond words with the success you are having. But after a while the fun becomes a job, the joys become mundane, and you just no longer see the value in your lifestyle. Really? How could anyone get like that? It’s called burn out. It happens to people in all kinds of situations in life, and it’s no different in homesteading. I will repeat~ Homesteading is a wonderful way of life. You are surrounded with blessings each and every minute. But the work does take a toll on you and your family. When you get to the burn out stage (and don’t want to become a “homestead failure”) it’s time to reevaluate. Do you really need 12 goats, 10 cows, 60 chickens, 15 rabbits, a dozen Guineas, 4 pigs, etc., etc.? Don’t throw in the towel completely- after all, this was your dream and you know it’s how you are comfortable living. But take a little time to get down to just what means the most. Ease the work load, ease the responsibility, and focus on what blesses you most. Sell, give away, or harvest what you no longer want to focus on so that you can feed your family or bless others. You don’t have to be a homestead super-wo(man)!
So, there you have it. My open, very raw but very realistic, list of things to consider before homesteading. I would never tell you not to start a homestead- I believe in this life completely. But I would tell you that it’s not for everyone. Pray, have faith, and ask for wisdom so that, if it’s your path, you can live this rewarding life.