When entering into homesteading most people are intrigued by the idea of growing your own food. Raising and butchering animals can seem intimidating at first so most new homesteaders usually look to start small, i.e raising meat chickens. Raising meat chickens is a great way to add protein to your homestead diet without getting over your head in costs that may be associated with larger animals like cows and pigs.
Here's a list of the essentials you will need to raise your first batch of chickens, remember most of these things can be used for multiple years so did get sticker shock from the initial investment
So, what does this really mean regarding value-added to your homestead?
Let me tell you what's working for us. We raise two types of chickens, Rangers and Cornish X's. Rangers are a selectively bred meat bird that is closer to the older style chickens your grandparents were accustomed to eating. They take 9-12 weeks to mature and have a nice ratio of light to dark meat. They also grow proportionally meaning that if you wanted to raise them up to breed more rangers for your homestead you could. We currently have two ranger hens as part of our egg-laying flock. Cornish X's, on the other hand, are quite different from the Rangers. The Cornish grow very quickly and are primarily a white meat bird. They take 6-8 weeks to mature and need to be butchered around that time as their body will quickly deteriorate if given the option to just keep growing. These birds more closely resemble the type of birds that are mass-produced for grocery stores.
Now that we've gone over the types of chickens we raise, let's get into the numbers.
Rangers Cost for 25 Chickens: $263.03
Chicks: $35.00 (we get a super discounted rate by partnering with another farm and ordering in large batches)
Pine Shavings (when in brooder): $10
Deaths: 1 chicken
Shrink Bags + Labels: $16.80
We sold our Rangers for $2.75lb and the average weight per bird was 6.66lbs. We raised these birds a bit longer than usual taking them to 13 weeks but we think the extra meat (about 1lb higher per bird) was worth it.
The total value of our Rangers was $439.73 but when we subtracted out our costs we profited $176.70.
Cornish X Cost for 50 Chickens was $235.43
Pine Shaving/Straw: $34
Shrink Bags+ Labels: $34.30
We also sold our CornishX's for 2.75lb but the average weight per bird was quite low at 3.14lbs as we decided to butcher than right at 6 weeks.
The total value of our CornishX's was $397.43 but when we subtracted out our costs we profited $162.01.
Okay, there's a lot to go over here.
First of all, we aren't selling all of these birds because we obviously want some for ourselves so that "profit" may or may not exist depending on how many we keep. Also, the "value" figure is a little low because we priced our birds $0.25 below the market value for our area to attract some new customers. We also utilized a poultry tractor we had built in the spring but did not figure in its costs into these numbers as we plan to use it for many years. So all and all we did make some money but it took 13 weeks of hard work, and two brutal days of chicken butchering (in the rain might I add) to profit less than $200. Also, I should bring up that we butchered these birds ourselves and there is always the option to take your birds to a processing facility and paying them to do it.
So why do we do it?
Well, to put it simply, we like knowing where our food comes from. We only have 2 acres of land so when it came to producing our own meat we are limited to just poultry for now. Chickens also allow you to invest a short period of time in order to fill your freezer for the rest of the year. This example was just one of our batches as we usually raise a total of about 100 chickens per summer. For a couple, like us, we could probably get away with raising 40-50 birds if we weren't selling any but the point of selling some chickens was to help cover costs, which it did. Apart from hunting, there aren't many options to fill your freezers with "free" meat that only cost you.
This is a subject that may not cross the mind of every aspiring homesteader so let's bring it to the forefront of attention, it's hard to vacation when you're a homesteader. A more accurate statement might be, it's close to impossible to take a vacation when you're a homesteader and that's why many elect to forgo vacations all together. I'm here to tell you it can be done but you may need to alter your lifestyle if weekend getaways are a frequent event in your life (good for you by the way if they are). Here are a few reasons why most homesteaders skip vacations.
You are responsible for a lot, probably more than you realize daily
Most homesteaders know they work hard every day, whether it's weeding the garden, feeding turkeys, or cleaning coops, you're busy. The thing is when you're busy all the time it seems normal. The problem is that your normal and other people's normal are not the same. I took a weekend trip a year ago with my boyfriend. We thought it would be fine, just 2 nights away camping with some friends. At the time we didn't have to worry about someone watching our dogs so that was one less thing to worry about (lucky for us, our parents are both very attached to our dogs so it's no issue for them to go stay with "grandma and grandpa" from time to time). We had 12 laying hens, 2 rabbits, and 23 meat chickens at the time. To us, the daily chores were nothing. We had to feed and water everyone in the morning. In the evenings, we had to move the meat chicken tractor and top off everyone's food and water. Sounds pretty easy right?
I asked my sister to handle the morning shifts and my brother to handle Saturday evening (we planned to leave Friday night so I figured we could handle the animals then, and return Sunday night so no need for anyone to come by then either). I felt completely confident in this arrangement until I began typing out instructions. Neither my brother or sister knew anything about caring for my animals and I found myself wondering "is it common knowledge how to dump and refill a chicken waterer?" or "they'd know the difference between rabbit food and chicken food, right?". I ended up typing up a 4 page (yes 4 page) instructional manual with pictures of everything. I found myself writing things like "turn the white part of the chicken waterer counter-clockwise to release it from the base". I thought "when the hell did this get so complicated?". It wasn't complicated to me but I bet it was to them so I proceeded with finishing my manual. (Side note, before I adopted the farm life I used to pet sit as a side hustle. I often found myself searching for things like the dog's food or it's collar before resorting to calling the homeowner and finding out it's "obviously" under the sink or whatnot. So, I appreciate when people are crystal clear about where things are or how they work when you're taking care of their animals.)
We set off Friday night for our trip and I felt pretty good about leaving our animals. My sister called me after she visited our animals on Saturday morning to report everything went well. She had also been smart enough to stop by a few days before we left to go over everything in person, unlike my brother. He didn't have time to stop by and assured me he could handle it, no problem. Sure enough, I got a call from my brother around 7:30 pm Saturday night and he was obviously frustrated. He didn't read any of the directions I had left him and was basically in a cluster-F of a situation. The first line of my "manual" read, "whatever you do, don't let the hens out of the coop because you won't be able to get them back in there before dark". The first thing he did was walk over to the coop and open the door. He left it open while he removed their waterer and feeder and just let them all pour out. We typically let our hens out every morning so the fact that no one let them out until Saturday evening probably made them feel like they were escaping Alcatraz. My brother went on to complain that when he attempted to move our meat chicken tractor he accidentally ran over one of the chickens. He thought it was fine but he said he was frustrated that they didn't know to move with him as he yanked it across the grass. I mean…they're chickens, no one said they were bright. All and all he completed everything that needed to be done, in the most time consuming and difficult way possible.
Our trip was cut short due to a sudden drop in the temperature and onset of heavy cold rain. We got back to the homestead after 10 pm on Saturday night (being gone just over 24 hours) and I immediately went out to check on our animals. Everyone was okay except the laying hens at no water…zero, which didn't even seem possible to me. Upon further inspection, I realized that my brother had somehow hung the waterer on an angle and all the water poured onto the floor of the coop. Since it had only been a few hours since he was there, I thought "ok no big deal". However, the more I thought about it, had we not come home early, those birds would have been without water for over 24 hours and depending on the temperature I could have come home to dead hens.
Why do I tell you this long-winded story? Because we were only gone 1 day, with trusted family members taking care of our animals, armed with a complete "farm animals for dummies manual" including pictures, and I still barely dodged coming home to dead animals. Entrusting someone else with your farm is a huge leap of faith and it why it's so hard to vacation. I'm also not saying my brother intentionally mishandled anything on my homestead, it was just simply way more work than he was expecting.
Does this mean I can never go anywhere again? Not necessarily
Farmers can and do sometimes travel but it's not as easy as dropping your dog off at a kennel and heading to the airport. Here are some things to consider.
I've found the ideal person to watch my homestead, now what?
So, you've found and vetted the perfect homestead-watcher? That's great! Be sure to treat them well and pay them handsomely. Also, be sure to go over the below checklist before handing them your keys to ensure a smooth transition as you skip off to your vacation.
Vacationing while homesteading is possible, it's just not easy. The trade-off is that you will probably enjoy homesteading so much you won't crave a getaway like you did in the past. I sometimes think about how nice it would be to take a weeklong beach vacation, and perhaps someday we will, but for the most part, there is always something exciting happening right here on the homestead that I couldn't imagine missing. To me, homesteading has allowed me to create a life I don't need a vacation from and with any luck it will do that for you as well.
I hate to break it to all of you free-spirited, go with the flow type homesteaders but recording keeping is a must. You simply have no choice in the matter. Even if you have a big fat pile of money to buy land and animals at your every whim, you need to keep records. If you are homesteading alone the task will surely fall on you, but if you have a partner in crime be sure to figure out ahead of time who is the keeper of the records. Accuracy is key and having multiple people keeping records could end horribly. Here are a few points to record-keeping on a homestead.
#1: You will forget
I'm telling you, no matter how ingrained you think this season of crops or animals is in your head, it's not. By this time next year, you will be struggling to remember exactly what you did or didn't do, hence making it harder to correct any issues or simply improve any of your homesteading activities. Homesteading is all about learning and if I taught you something today, and you didn't take any notes, and then I didn't ask you to do it again until a year later, would you remember?
#2: Even if you have money now that doesn't mean you'll have it tomorrow
This is too often the sad truth of homesteading. People get into homesteading when they are financially comfortable and go "hog wild" buying and building everything they want. Then, tragically, something happens and the money isn't there anymore. They need to decide either to cut way back on their homesteading activities or, sadly, liquidate the whole homestead and hopefully try again in the future. You need records in either situation. If we fell on hard times today, I'd know exactly what we needed to stop doing to cut back and what perhaps we needed to do more of to keep us afloat. If god forbid, we had to walk away from the farm, I know what hard lessons we wouldn't need to learn twice when we could start up again down the road.
#3: The devil is in the details
Details can make or break your records. This year I resolved to do a lot more record-keeping and I'm kicking myself for not doing this sooner. I kept a detailed log of when and what I planted in my garden. I also recorded what didn't make it and needed to be pulled out. I added to this, why I thought said plants didn't make it and what I want to do differently next year. It's a lot of detail but had I not done that I guarantee that next spring I'd be scratching my head trying to remember why I pulled all my rainbow bell peppers out when I love them so much. Also, speculating or flat out knowing why something didn't work this year, and noting it, will usher you along to grow your skills each year. My take away of information on my bell peppers is that I planted them in seed starters that were too small and didn't start them soon enough in the spring.
#4. Don't get discouraged if you fall behind
When I started my garden journal back in January, I was adamant that I'd journal all of my plant's progress every few days. I did just that for several weeks and was proud of myself. Then spring hit, and my journaling fell to the wayside. This will happen and it's okay. What you need to do is when you think about your journal just go pick it up and jot down whatever you are remembering at that moment. It's better than just resolving to ditch the journal and you'll still end up with good info. Also, don't put the journal away! I was doing great at consistently journaling when I had it on the dining room table, but as soon as I moved it into the spare bedroom to make way for dinner guests, I forgot it existed. Keep your journal in an obvious and, dare I say, inconvenient spot so you're constantly looking at it or touching it.
#5 Social media has helped me immensely with record keeping
If you're not on social media that's okay, you can also use just your phone's camera to help with record keeping. I, personally, am on Facebook and more recently also Instagram. Both are picture posting social media platforms. Facebook specifically has been great for me because it has this function called "On This Day" that shows you what you posted on each day last year, 2 years ago, 3 years ago, etc. I know when our original batch of hens were purchased and when they laid their first egg because I posted pictures. Every year, around mid-August, I get an "On This Day" reminder showing the first egg laid on the farm. This has also helped with our meat birds to determine if we raised them 9 weeks, 10 weeks, or all the way to 12 weeks during previous years. I always try to take pictures and post farm activities that seem memorable or important. You can do this same thing with just your phone. Simply take pictures of everything you deem notable and keep them on your phone. Those pictures will automatically be dated and you can even arrange them into albums to more easily locate them. I often revert to my photo library to see when that certain vegetable was harvested last year or what date we got our first batch of meat birds in the spring.
#6 You need to do this if you ever want to make money
Yes, this is very much true. If you ever want to make money or break-even, you need to keep track of just about everything. Regarding money, most people think "yeah I guess I would have to keep track of my expenses to make money" but it's more than that. Rookies loose money, people who have been casually homesteading for a bit of time may make some money, but people who actively work towards improving their processes are successful homesteaders and may be able to quit their jobs and live off their homestead. Which last time I checked is the ultimate homesteader goal.
I had a conversation with a family friend recently which was a prime example of this. He has been casually farming for 35+ years. He is now retired and was chatting with me about "really making his farm into a business" this year. I said that was great and asked what kind of plans he had. He typically raises beef cattle and pigs, just enough to feed his family and sell to a few close friends. He responded that he just needed to do "more of everything". I asked him which animals he made more money on and what his limitations were with his animal housing. Those two simple factors had never crossed his mind. He went on to reply "oh I'm not sure which one I make more money on but I got a bit more room for animals". Hmmm, two bad answers. This is, unfortunately, the result of casual farming and no record keeping. At a bare minimum, he should have records of how much per pound it costs him to raise beef and the same figure for his pork. I did this with our chickens this year and the beauty of this is that if you raise the same breeds, in the same conditions, year after year you don't need to keep these records every year. I now know how much feed a Freedom Ranger chicken eats from the time we buy it to the time it's butchered. Whether the feed prices increase doesn't matter as I can simply plug the increases into my figures from last year to get my new price per pound numbers.
Then he'd need to evaluate that if he wanted to raise twice as many animals, does he have enough room. That leads to the next question if he didn't have enough room, would it be financially smart to acquire more barn or pasture space to accommodate more animals. Without records, you are left guessing and that's how people end up losing money in the long run, if not immediately.
#7 Always remember that it is a necessary evil
Record keeping is tedious and sometimes downright painful. I hated documenting my gardening failures. Even though I knew the journal was designed to be read by me, putting my failures in print just made me feel like dirt. I also cringed when I completed the spreadsheet of our meat chickens "price per pound" figures and saw how little of a profit we were going to make. I should be glad that we made money and can justify continuing to do it, but had I been able to show a big fat number regarding profits I would have felt better. However, now we know we need to make some changes. I found that we need to cut down on the time that the chicks are in the barn because it results in an added pine shaving expense. We had a very sub-par tractor last spring and after I moved the chickens out into it, we had a huge rainstorm and it was cold. We lost one chicken due to the conditions and I had to move them all back into the barn for 2 more weeks until the weather warmed up. Now, we have a proper tractor and can move them outside out as soon as they are feathered. My point is writing it down, good or bad, will make you better. The information will be more helpful than you can imagine in the long run.
2019 was our first year venturing into turkey farming. We’d been raising meat chickens for a few years and felt like we were ready to take on raising a few turkeys. All and all it was a good experience and we are going to continue to raise them but here are a few things I wish I had known beforehand.
Choosing the right breed
There are several breeds of turkeys but to put it simply there are two groups, Production & Heritage. Production breeds are types of turkeys that have been selectively bred over the years to grow at a faster than normal pace and put on more meat in more desirable areas such as breast meat. Any turkey you buy from the grocery store is a production breed. Heritage breeds are domestic turkeys who maintain historic characteristics that are typically no longer present in the production breeds. They grow slower, have more evenly distributed meat, and tend to exhibit more wild turkey behavior.
We had originally planned to get 6 heritage Narragansett turkey poults from a local farm friend. We thought 6 would be enough as we’d plan to sell 4 extra to friends or family to recoup some money spent on raising them. We also thought we wouldn’t be overwhelmed by only 6. It was a great plan however it hit a snag in early April when the local farm advised us that they were having trouble hatching turkey eggs. Narragansetts, like other heritage breeds, take a long time to mature, 9 months. So, when I heard that our friend might not have them for us I took to searching the internet where I found that most hatcheries were already sold out of heritage poults. You see, if you are going to raise turkeys that take 9 months to mature, you need to buy them early or else they won’t be ready for Thanksgiving. My friend told me to give her one more week to try some eggs in an incubator but after that I’d be on my own to find some.
A few days later, we were out of town (acquiring a new giant angora rabbit) and happened upon a dozen broad breasted bronze turkey poults at a feed store. The feed stores near us typically don’t sell turkey poults so this was quite the find for us. While these were a production breed, we figured it’d be better to buy them than wait and maybe end up with no turkeys. We took home a dozen broad breasted bronze turkey poults. Yes 12 poults not 6, but I figured turkey poults are supposed to be not as hardy as chicken chicks so maybe we’d loose a few. We got them home and set up in their brooder only to receive a call the very next day from my friend “hey I have 4 narragansetts for you”. So we set off on our adventure of raising 16 turkeys, some heritage and some production.
Here’s my take away regarding choosing a breed
Baby Turkeys (Poults)
I LOVE baby turkeys. I had no idea how much I’d enjoy them vs chicken chicks. They are much calmer and much quieter. They just kind of wonder around their brooder, surveying their area, not kicking pine shavings everywhere and dirtying their water. The first 2-3 weeks with turkeys was great. At about 3-4 weeks they started flying, like really well. We were not prepared for this as we didn’t have their “turkey tractor” built quite yet and they were very much uncontained in the barn. We actually lost a poult for several hours and finally found her under the rabbit cages after hours of multiple people searching with flashlights.
Overall we had good luck with the poults but young turkeys are notoriously fragile. Ours readily eat and drank but they had also spent at least a few days at the feed store where who knows how many died before we picked up our 12. Many people report that it can take significant effort to teach your turkeys to drink and a lot of people resort to putting marbles in the water trough to encourage them to peck at the water and hopefully figure out how to hydrate themselves.
Turkey poults also differ from chicks when it comes to price. Most chicks are pretty cheap. The average meat chick from a hatchery is $2-$3, sometimes less if you order a large quantity. Most turkey poults are over $6, Narragansetts run as high as $15 a piece. When you buy from a hatchery you also need to factor in shipping costs. You can get around shipping costs with chickens if you buy from a local feed store that is selling them but, in our experience, stores near us rarely carry turkey poults. So getting into raising even 6 heritage turkeys could easily cost you over $100, whereas 6 meat chicks would probably cost you less than $20.
Housing & Pasture Raising
Even if you plan to raise your turkeys on pasture I’d suggest having some sort of poultry tractor or coop type situation for them during their “teenage” stage. We moved our turkeys outside later than we would have liked but they were still too small, in my opinion, to free range. We built a poultry tractor and kept them in there from age 5 weeks- 10 weeks. We probably could have let them free range sooner, but we had to coordinate a good day to clip their wings upon release.
That leads me to my next subject of pasture raising. It’s important to have your pasture space contained by a fence as you could quickly become a farmer who lost all their turkeys. Turkeys tend to travel in groups so if one wonders off, chances are the rest will follow. When we released our turkeys from their tractor we carefully clipped their wings before letting them out to ensure no one would immediately fly over the fence. You can find instructions online for clipping wings. It’s super simple and doesn’t hurt the bird in anyway, much like trimming your fingernails. My suggestion is to have at least two people to do this, one to hold and one to cut. Turkeys are quite strong and will smack the crap out of you with their wings and feet. Be advised that this worked like a charm for the production breed but the heritage turkeys will eventually grow their flight feathers back and need it done again.
Heritage birds will also have a strong urge to roost. We have 2 lovely apple trees and one lovely pear tree that have low branches. I had hoped that any bird that wanted to roost would choose this spot as these trees are in the center of our pasture and easily visible from our house. I had no such luck as my heritage birds decided to roost on the fence. Luckily the spot they chose was close to the house, but I still didn’t think it was very safe and I was proven right when one was ripped off the fence by a predator in the night, never to be seen again. We’ve clipped the heritage birds’ wings several times now and they still manage to get up on that fence. I bought a small pen and set it right next to where they roost, hoping to persuade them to seek shelter in it. They won’t, they want to be up high roosting because that is what their instincts tell them.
Overall I’m very pro-pasture raising but would caution anyone raising heritage birds to make a schedule to clip their wings often so they never figure out they can fly over a fence.
Here is where we messed up. As I said, we raised both a production and a heritage breed at the same time. Well we bought the production breed too early and the heritage breed too late. Our production turkeys matured to prime weight around 4 months old. Since we purchased them in early April that meant we had big beautiful turkeys ready to sell in August. You know who wants to buy a turkey in August? No one. Our freezer is now stacked full of turkeys. I had to basically beg some family and friends who had expressed interest in getting a turkey from us to PLEASE PLEASE TAKE IT NOW! I’ve unloaded 3 of 9 turkeys I want to sell and am still struggling with the lack of freezer space.
Regarding our heritage turkeys, we should have bought them in February. We bought them in April and they take up to 9 months to reach prime weight. If you did the math like I did you probably realized that these birds won’t be ready until next year. Since 2 out of the 4 were taken out by predators, we resolved that we will just process them Thanksgiving weekend and see how they look. We aren’t expecting much from them.
This was and will continue to be tricky for us. We seem to have no problem identifying when meat chickens are “ready” but it’s difficult with turkeys. Their feathers seem to mask their true body size more than a chicken’s does. Also, I’ve talked to several farmers that claim their “live weight” has 0 correlation to their butchered weight. Meaning if you weighed a turkey when it’s still alive and it’s 35lbs, you can’t assume in any way what it’s butchered weight will be. You can often due this quite accurately with chickens but again we’ve never had trouble just “eye-balling” a chicken and determining when it’s ready.
We ended up selecting a medium size turkey from the batch and butchering him first. He was over 20lbs butchered! So needless to say, we decided it was time to do the rest of them. Ideally, we would have waited another 2-3 weeks due to our work schedules but we didn’t want to end up with 30lb turkeys so we penciled in “butcher day” for the following Saturday. When we butcher chickens we use an automatic chicken plucker (side note , if you are raising meat chickens this is a must-have investment). However, turkeys are too big to fit in our plucker so they all had to be plucked by hand. Hand plucking is tedious and time consuming. It took 3 of us 12+ hours to get 10 turkeys in the freezer. I’m convinced there was no faster option so my advice would be to plan on taking a long time to process your turkeys and enlist as much help as you can.
Note to self, turkeys are big and awkward to store. We have an entire 15 cubic foot freezer full of mainly turkey meat right now. We can only fit 2-3 birds per shelf so it’s a terribly inefficient way to use the freezer space. Ideally, we would have processed these birds closer to Thanksgiving and I could have persuaded more people to come pick up their bird the day we butchered them. But when you butcher in August, you get a lot of responses like “oh I want one but I don’t have the space right now, can I get it in a few months?”. What can you say to that? “No, I can’t store this turkey”, in which case they just don’t buy it. Nope, I said “sure we can” to several people and now we are stuck with a lot of wasted freezer space.
My advice is time your butchering day accordingly and maybe even have a “no hold” policy so everyone is motivated to pick up their bird sooner rather than later.
I will not claim to be any expert in the “finding buyers” field but I’m making progress. We butchered 11 production turkeys and have sold 3 so far. We plan to use one as our Thanksgiving bird and my parents plan to buy one (when they have freezer space). So now I’m down to 6 birds that need a home. I’m fairly confident I’ll sell all of these turkeys but the problem is when. Most people don’t think about buying a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey until about a week before the day. Processing birds in the middle of summer was a colossal mistake. I’m advertising them through several different outlets but don’t expect to unload them for at least another month.
Here’s what I would have done different
What we are doing different next year
Overall, I like turkeys and am glad we decided to raise them. I hope you also decide to give turkeys a try on your homestead.
Part one: Lists are your friend
My boyfriend hates lists. I mean lists of any kind, to- do list, grocery lists, any list is bad in his book. He finds them constraining and intimidating. I, on the other hand, love me a good list. I’m a list girl through and through. I make them for work, for house repair projects, and of course for homesteading tasks. I have paper lists, a list app on my phone, and lists on my computer. If you’re on the same team as my boyfriend then let me tell you a little bit about how and why you need to make lists your friend.
#1. So you don’t forget
This sounds like a no-brainer I know. Of course, people make lists so they don’t forget things but it’s more than that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “I need to do that” and then went to do it and realized I really need to do the 5 steps leading up to that task first. This will put you behind hours, days, weeks, or maybe months when it comes to homesteading. If you sit down and think “I need to build a chicken coop this spring”, don’t just put “build coop” on your list. Think about how big the coop needs to be, the design, the materials needed, then make your list. Coming up with a sub “to-do” list that includes “buy 4 8’ posts, 8 sheets of plywood, 2 packs of shingles, door hinges, paint, etc” will get you way closer to having a coop then “build coop”. Even though all you’ve accomplished is buying materials you are closer to accomplishing your goal and are less likely to loose track of time. I can’t tell you home many times we’ve gone to the hardware store for something small and my boyfriend says (like he always does) “what else do we need?” and there I am scrambling to remember what projects I wanted to accomplish and what materials they require.
#2 It holds you accountable
Here’s why the boyfriend hates lists. He is very productive don’t get me wrong, but he HATES anything tied to accountability. Unless there is a fundamental reason something needs done by a certain date he doesn’t want to hear about urgency in completing projects. A list is a constant reminder of what hasn’t yet been done and some people handle that stress differently. I find it as a motivator. I don’t like feeling like I have a lot of things that need to get done so I opt to start on the list ASAP. Some people find that stress consuming and would rather throw the list in the trash then feel pressure to cross things off. If you too find yourself in a relationship with someone who hates lists then I suggest you do what I do, have secret lists. Yep, in regard to our home improvement projects and our homesteading projects, I have lists saved on my computer that he is not privy to. I review my lists and then casually bring up the tasks that need completion over dinner or when we are reading in the evenings. I make sure to have all sub-lists ready to go in case he agrees to help with the task and we can head out to the store for materials ASAP. Then, once said task is complete, I cross it off my list and start focusing on the next item. My motto in my house is “if it’s not on the list it won’t happen”.
#3 Goals are accomplished
Here is my favorite thing about lists, crossing things out. When we were in the thick of remodeling our house I had a master home renovation list. It had literally everything that needed done to complete our home down to installing doorknobs and putting up shelving in closets. It was a list stored on my computer and when I would start to feel discouraged by the lack of renovation progress, I would be able to look at my list and see all of the things that were crossed out. It was great to visually see how much progress was made and also a great way for me to pick a small, very do-able task, and complete it so that I could cross something off and feel like I was moving forward. Your homesteading journey is going to be filled with one goal after another and if you don’t keep track and give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished you might loose your mind.
#4 Tasks that were never completed aren’t necessarily failures
The dreaded “to-do” item that was never completed and never will be. This is a list maker’s worst nightmare but trust me it’s not all bad. This past spring, I made a “homesteading to do list” with the goal of completing tasks that would lead to income. I made a list of the plants I was going to grow and how I was going to set up a roadside nursery stand. I also detailed how I was going to have my first litter of giant angora rabbits and how much I thought I could sell them for. I detailed raising and selling chickens. I also listed a variety of knitted items I would make to sell on the farm website. The list was aggressive to say the least. This year isn’t yet over but the majority of the things on my list didn’t happen, at least not how I planned they would. We had a terribly wet and cold spring which wreaked havoc on my roadside nursey idea. My first litter of giant angoras did happen, but it was with my un-pedigreed rabbit who had more babies than expected. I actually ended up making more money on the rabbits than planned. In addition, I had planned to purchase a new female rabbit for future breeding and factored in that cost. Low and behold, a breeder contacted me and wanted to gift me a beautiful female rabbit in exchange for the pick of the litter when I breed her to my, oh so desirable, chocolate male rabbit. We did raise chickens and turkeys as planned and have sold WAY more chickens than I expected. The turkeys are still in the freezer so I have my fingers crossed that we will unload them closer to Thanksgiving. As for the knitted items, my brother and his wife announced that they were expecting this summer so I’ve only had time to work on a baby blanket and all other knitting projects are on hold. The moral of what I’m trying to tell you is I ended up with a full to-do list of “failures” but because I had a list with tasks I still stayed on course as much as possible and did come away with accomplishing my overall goal of providing some income to our homestead.
Part Two: “The List”
If I didn’t hammer the point home enough in “Part One” let me say it here, you will have many lists over your homesteading journey. Your life will be full of lists but I’m going to talk now about the big one, the homesteader compass, also known to me as “THE LIST”. This is the list of what you want to accomplish overall as a homesteader. One of the tasks on my “list” is grow and store enough food that we can skip the grocery store for as long as we want. This is a hefty goal that will take years of learning in my garden and in my kitchen to accomplish.
Having a handful of goals like these will help you to organize what you pursue on your homestead. If you are just starting out, or just thinking about homesteading, this is a great first step. You will no doubt find that once you really start researching all the homesteading-type activities out there, you can’t do them all and probably don’t want to. I also should point out this list isn’t carved in stone. You will definitely come across things you want to accomplish as you progress on your journey. You may also remove things from your list down the road. I like to revert back to “THE LIST” from time to time and see if what I have jotted down still excites me.
Once you have your list the next step is how to make those things happen. The number one piece of advice I can give on this is be patient but not passive. Look at a goal on your list and think “what skills or resources would I need to complete that”. For me and my “skip the grocery store” goal, it means I need to not only improve my gardening skills but learn to can. I also need to learn how to cook and bake more things from scratch. My dream is to have beautiful shelves full of mason jars canned perfectly in our basement and a pantry full of basic cooking and baking needs like flour, sugar, and spices so I can whip up a meal from scratch daily. This goal also involves having fully stocked and organized freezers full of wild caught game and our own poultry raised here. It’s a daunting goal but I’m going to accomplish it. You know why? Because I have a plan.
This is where being patient not passive comes in. You will need to look at your goal and create a game plan on what you can do to achieve it. Try to think of small time frames like this season or this year, not “in the next 5 years I’m going to…”. That’s a sure fire way to realize 5 years has passed and you still aren’t where you want to be. You need to identify what skills you lack and how to acquire those skills. For me it meant two skills that I needed to improve this year, gardening and canning. I’m a modest gardener who never grew a darn thing growing up but I’ve been trying since the age of 24 to teach myself. As far as canning goes I’ve never canned anything up until a week ago. I’m still very intimidated by it but now have 11 beautiful quarts of pears that are ready for winter storage. Are we going to live off canned pears this winter? No, but I had to start somewhere. I’m going to continue to can a few more items this fall but I’m still light-years away from my goal. I’m patient in realizing I’ve only made a baby step and I have a long way to go but I’m not passive, I did in fact build skills that are required to achieve my goal. Next year I can revise my game plan to include a more aggressive gardening and canning goal to inch my way forward.
I know this is a homesteading blog but I think it’s important to note I feel strongly about this strategy for all things in life. I come from a family that functioned on the “someday” type of thinking. Someday we’ll move into a bigger house, someday we’ll vacation at that beach resort we see on tv, someday I’ll be able to buy that car I want. Someday never comes if you don’t make it. Even baby steps are steps and you should always be proud that you are doing something, anything to achieve your goals.
When the remodeling of our house was dragging into its 4th year I was near my breaking point of patience. The entire remodel process was painfully slow but I kept telling myself that every step was a step closer to being done, which is right. However, when we were rounding the corner on completion, only needing to install the flooring which we had already purchased, our roof leaked right into our brand new kitchen.
This is the dreaded “step back” I had been fearing throughout the whole process. As far as I was concerned, I could handle all the delays and slow progress but if we had to re-do anything I was going to lose it. We cleaned up the mess, got a few quotes for a new roof, waited months (yes months, because it was winter) to get a new roof installed before we could resume remodeling. Once we resumed remodeling we had a terrible time with repairing the kitchen ceiling which resulted in an additional project that set us back another $500+ and an additional month of time.
Steps back happen and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. I ultimately had to suck it up and become a more positive version of myself. While the roof leaking seemed catastrophic it really only damaged the ceiling. We have gorgeous hickory wood counter-tops in the kitchen that for years were just raw, un-protected wood. We had just covered it in epoxy a few weeks before the roof incident and had that not been done our counter-tops surely would have been ruined by the water. Also, we had almost started putting down the flooring a week before the leak and had we done that our floors would have been also ruined. I was even able to see the silver lining in our kitchen ceiling debacle. We had a standard, lightly textured drywall ceiling before that looked nice enough but we were having issues with hairline cracking. I had resolved that I would have to live with the cracks. However, when the leak happened we had to completely re-texture the ceiling. This ended up going terribly with giant, very noticeable, cracks forming right after the drywall mud dried. I couldn’t live with those big cracks so we opted to buy the cheapest tongue and groove boards we could find and nail them to the ceiling. I then painted them white to give my country themed kitchen the ultimate farmhouse look. Moral being, don’t be afraid to see your step back as a blessing in disguise.
So lets say a few days from now you sit down and write your “LIST”, where do you go from here? Find the smallest step forward. Even purchasing a book on a certain skill set and reading up on it is a step. Be realistic in what you can accomplish. If you set a goal to achieve in the next month but realistically think “there’s no way I’ll have time for that” revise your goal. Achieving any goal will motivate you forward and sometimes you’ll be able to surpass your goal.
Last fall I proclaimed “we should raise turkeys next year”, with essentially no plan. Over the winter I came up with a rough idea of what we needed to do and resolved that we’d only be raising 4-6 turkeys. We knew we’d need to hand process them and had no idea how much feed they’d eat so I thought I was so smart to limit us to a small number of turkeys as a “test run”. We ended up with 16 turkeys. It’s all a blur how it happened but it had to do with coming across 12 baby turkeys at a feed store that were super cheap. I was supposed to cancel our order of the 4-6 we had planned on but didn’t and we ended up with another 4 turkey chicks 2 days later. We built the ultimate turkey tractor when they were young. We processed them by hand which took upwards of 12 hours and brought me to the brink of a meltdown by 10pm when we were bagging and weighing turkeys in the dark with flashlights. We spent an enormous amount on feed but I was savvy enough to keep track of every penny spent so we can properly price the turkeys and recoup our money. It was hectic and, to my standards, poorly planned but you know what, we did it. “Raise turkeys” was a goal on one of my sub-lists (funneling up to a goal of producing our own food on “THE LIST”) and I was able to check it off.
So make your list and get started! Patiently check off your victories and never get passive when it seems your progress is slow. Months or years from now you can reflex on what you’ve accomplished and how naive you may have been to make such an aggressive list.