You know, this whole “I’m going to be a homesteader” thing started with a completely random thought, don’t you? I was perfectly content writing about preparedness and natural alternatives when a thought struck me, “I should be homesteading.” No amount of planning, prepping or reading from other homesteaders prepared me for what I was walking into.
First, some background information: I am a born and bred city girl. I lived in a sprawling suburb of Houston, Texas up until about 6 months ago when my family and I gave up the cush city life and relocated to a ranch on the other side of the United States. Sure I knew I was going to make mistakes (and lots of them). After all, I had zero experience being a homesteader. In fact, the only real experience I had with homesteading was opening up a bag of composted manure. So, I welcomed the mistakes because at least I would be doing what I felt I needed to do with my life.
Before taking on this grand adventure, I would daydream in my suburbanite home about surrounding myself with livestock, being knee deep in yard work, cleaning out barns, shoveling fresh manure (yes, I daydreamed about manure) and looking out to the horizon to see more than the house across the street.
In all honesty, I was not happy in the suburbs. I felt lost and in reality was quickly losing myself. I desperately needed my breath to be taken away by something . So, after careful planning, we found the perfect little town to set up our humble homestead and plunged in head first. This is where I fell flat on my face and landed into a lovely heaping pile of trouble.
1. Romanticizing homesteading will only get you so far
In all honesty, I was forewarned not to romanticize homesteading – and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. It is true that romanticizing something will help propel you into action; but there is nothing romantic about the rank stench of mass chicken manure. And nothing prepares you for seeing one of your livestock dead from a predator attack. I don’t want to deflate anyone’s homesteading dreams, but there is no rest for the weary on a homestead. There is a lot of work, ahem, sweat equity involved in running a homestead.
- Hauling or chopping your own wood
- Turning compost heaps
- Hauling/burning trash
- Tending to the garden
- Mowing down overgrown pastures
- Fixing/building fences
- Chasing livestock in cold and sometimes, rainy weather
- Shoveling that blessed manure I was daydreaming about
But… there’s the good too:
- Watching chickens busily searching for bugs
- Your children running through a green pasture
- Feeling proud to have produced your own food sources
- Saving money by learning how to do things on your own
- Did I mention the stars?
I think I’m still romanticizing it a little, but it really alters your entire perspective on life. Amidst the busyness of homesteading, the craziness of life seems to slow down or simplify somehow. No longer are you worried about the mundane – your purpose just becomes clear.
2. Start Small
One of my wonderful readers warned me to go into homesteading slowly. It’s so easy to have all of these plans and get carried away by them; and pretty soon, you are in way over your head. There will be times when you find yourself doing the work alone because either other members of your family are too busy, or are not as “on board” with homestead duties as you are. Regardless, my advice to anyone wanting to start up a homestead is to start small and make a list:
- Start a small garden and build upon it.
- Build a livestock area (if you do not already have a barn) that is able to protect your livestock from predators. A three sided barn can easily be erected for this purpose.
- Buy a small quantity of livestock and make sure they are thriving before you buy more.
- Practice living off of the livestock, using their products as well as their bi-products.
3. Be responsible
Remember, the goal for anyone who wants to be self-reliant is to not be enslaved to debt. So, if your heart is set on getting your hands dirty on a homestead, start planning for it by setting money aside. On top of paying house payments, utility bills, random school fees (if you have children), you will be paying for purchasing tools, livestock feed, medicine and other livestock paraphernalia, building materials, seeds, soil amendments, deer deterrents, etc. All of this costs money, and if you do not have it, you will have to put your plans on hold until you do.
While we’re on the subject, make sure you are well prepared to care for livestock and again, start small. We started our homestead with chickens. In all of my reading and research, I read that chickens, rabbits and perhaps goats were the best livestock to start with. Of course, in the same reading, I read that you can allow your chickens into your garden to eat bugs. Well, just so you know, they didn’t eat just the bugs, they ate the garden too! Those chickens ate through my entire crop of fall plantlings I had started. So, there is no winter garden. We quickly realized that if the chickens were going to free range, they needed to be in a controlled environment. Plans were made for the chickens to be in a chicken run.
As a former city girl, I also did not take into account how our chickens would be preyed upon by foxes, hawks and coyotes. The foxes and coyotes attack from the ground, the hawks from the air. Make no mistake, we were at war and you are going to need more than just a pellet gun to keep your chickens around. I can honestly tell you I was very naive with this one; but, it’s real folks. If you are going to have livestock, you have to be able to protect them.
4. Beware of the grazers: They come, they eat, they leave.
I cannot begin to tell you how annoyed I am at deer. Those doe-eyed creatures will eat you out of house and home. We hadn’t yet installed deer fencing around the garden, and by the time we did, they ate my entire summer garden. Then they started on the large blackberry bush we have on our property and didn’t stop until they had satiated their never-ending appetites. I was able to get some of the blackberries put away, but it wasn’t nearly as much as I had anticipated.
Wild turkeys were another force to reckon with. We have grapes that grow on the ranch and after the turkeys came through, we were left with none.
5. Stop procrastinating.
I am so guilty of this one! I always wait to the last minute and then kick myself for procrastinating. You cannot do this on a homestead. Things must be done in a timely fashion. For example, rather than buying firewood in the summer when the price was cheap and the demand was low, we waited until winter was upon us. By the time we were ready for making an order, the price of firewood had doubled due to the demand.
We also kept putting off building the chicken run due to time constraints and one by one our chickens were picked off by predators. I’m still kicking myself for this one. By the time the run was built, we were left with a little over 10 chickens (from our original 30).
6. Go for broke!
I mean this figuratively, of course. If homesteading is your dream – then do it! You get out of this venture as much as you put in. So, if you put your heart and soul into it, it will be very rewarding. That said, go into it realistically because a lot goes into the upkeep and care of a thriving homestead. You need to be prepared to make lots and lots of mistakes. For an exurbanite like myself, this lifestyle shift was like night and day and we made quite a few mistakes in our first 6 months – so be ready!
Here are some ways that you can prepare for homestead life. Start by making lists.
- what supplies you will need
- what skills you should learn, if relocation is involved
- check into www.city-data.com to look into potential moving areas
- if you have children, look into the local schools (www.greatschools.org is a good resource to use)
- make sure you can find a job in the area or that you can perform your job if you are self-employed (internet access, ease of shipping, by-laws and regulations)
To conclude, I can honestly tell you that making the choice to homestead is the best thing I ever did; it’s also the hardest thing I have done so far. Do not be fooled into thinking someone without proper preparation can successfully do this. You will make mistakes – guaranteed. Be sure that you are in a position to rebound from those errors, both financially and mentally. The reward to all this hard work and culture shock has been an increase in self-sufficiency, well-being and confidence. The glow of satisfaction of putting a meal on the table that comes completely from our own land is simply unmatched (something I am still longing for).
I will end this with one more piece of advice. For those of you interested in homesteading, read every homesteading/livestock related book you can get your hands on and read it. The more you understand, the better off you will be when you are applying the knowledge. Further, nothing beats real life experience, so if you know someone who is homesteading or has worked on a homestead, pick their brain and learn from them. Online resources such as www.a-homesteading-neophyte.blogspot.com/ is a wonderful resource to give you a realistic perspective of what homesteading is like.
Our plans for our small homestead is to add a barn by the Spring and add some goats and sheep to our little menagerie. I’ll keep you filled in on our progress. Until then, keep prepping and keep dreaming!