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.
How to cultivate your best resources of farming friends
When you are trying to enter the farming world I’ve seen two types of people. The first being the “I’ve done my research and I know exactly what I’m doing” group and the “what did I get myself into, oh my god, someone help me” group. In my opinion, no matter how confident you start out, we will all end up in group two at some point. Lucky for us there are a ton of great resources out there, from youtube videos, to blogs, to fantastically written books. Information is so readily available to all of us it’s a wonder how we used to get by 100 years ago. Well, 100 years ago if you were a struggling new farmer you relied on other kind hearted farmers to lend you a helping hand or, better yet, some great advice.
I’ve found there is no greater resource than another farmer when you are struggling with a project or problem. First hand advice is second to none and you’d be surprised what you can learn in a short amount of time. The problem for most new homesteaders is, where do I find such farmer friends to help me? Well this can be a bit tricky but not every farmer is going to want to help you. That’s right, you may find that promptly upon announcing at your local farmers market that you will be selling non-GMO, free range, farm fresh eggs that the other egg farmers aren’t too keen on you. This is simply a rule of business. Farmers work very VERY hard to accumulate a customer base and even when they are selling out of their product they are usually still just barely making enough to get by. So it’s quite likely that your entrance into the market will be viewed solely as a competitor in which case it may be hard to make friends. You should also keep this in mind if someone who is obviously a competitor of yours really wants to give you advice. I hate to say it but that may be a red flag and you might want to watch how much information you give out to such people as they may have sinister intentions of leading you down the wrong path. It’s also important to note that you may receive the “cold shoulder” from some farmers. This isn’t because they’re terrible people. There are often wannabe farmers that seem to materialize out of no where, have a ton of money, claiming to have big plans, and then a year later they disappear. The farmer who has been at it for 50+ years is going to be skeptical of a new person, with no farm experience, entering their territory.
So how do you find a reliable farm friend resource? Step one is to identify other farms that are doing the same thing you’d like to do or similar. There is no point in confiding in a farmer who raises their animals in barns on concrete if you are looking to do pasture raised livestock. Step two is identifying the customer base of that farm. Ask yourself if you’re competing for the same area and make sure to breach this subject with the farmer if you aren’t sure. Even if there is a bit of overlap of customer base, the farmer may be looking for somewhere to refer their customers when their product runs out. The best farmer friend is someone who is following the same practices as you but is far enough away from you that you aren’t competing for customers.
Once you’ve identified your potential friend, reach out to them and be as open and honest as possible. Try to convey that you are humble and be open with the amount of research you’ve done and how much you’d value their mentorship. Farmers work really hard perfecting their processes and given the right audience they’d love to tell you all about what they’ve learned over the years.
Once you’ve established a relationship try to be as considerate as possible with your new found gold-mine of information. Offer to help them with projects on their farm and openly express your gratitude often for their advice. Even if you decide to go against some of their advice, be open about your intentions and why you chose a different path. Every farmer knows there’s a fair amount of trial and error in most things and sometimes you just have to learn things the hard way on your own.
It’s fine to have multiple friends but be sure to identify whom you trust the most. There are several basic farm practices that every farmer is going to know but beyond that it’s all different. Every farm figures out what works best for them and at their own pace. Farms come in different sizes and follow different mindsets on quality, animal husbandry, and food tastes. Having too many friends that you are confiding in will no doubt leave you unsure of what to do. I will also likely piss off the farms that are providing you with hard earned advice only to find out that you’re comparing notes with others farms. It’s fine and actually wise to keep in contact with multiple farms in your area but only have one “mentor” farm as your advice bank.
Finally, make sure you are open to becoming someone else’s mentor. You will be surprised how quickly you accumulate information and before you know it someone will be asking you for advice. This recently happened to us and I was surprised by my own feelings towards it. I LOVE telling people about what we are doing on our homestead but when we were recently approached regarding sitting down with a friend of a friend who wanted to start raising some meat chickens, my first reaction was no. Specifically I thought, “no, we don’t want anyone else raising chickens around us and competing for customers”. I was shocked by my own knee-jerk reaction. Luckily, I had kept my reaction inside my head, not blurting out “NO”. I instead asked what exactly this guy wanted to accomplish? how many birds? did he want to sell them? After I took my guard down a bit I was able to see that this was a great opportunity to share some knowledge and hopefully inspire someone else to live the homestead lifestyle.
So, go out there and make some farmer friends. Their knowledge will be worth more than any podcast, blog, or book you’ve ever encountered.
This is a saying in our house that I inherited from my boyfriend who inherited it from his family. This notion of “nothing eats for free” can be applied to a lot of different ideas, i.e the lifecycle of wildlife and our place in the food chain or in my case, how we manage our farm. Let me tell you a bit why this should be the bottom line motto for your homestead.
Hard lessons taught by expensive rabbits
Unless you’ve recently come into a substantial amount of money, you will need to find ways for your homestead to support itself financially. This is much easier said than done. Most people will look at different aspects of homesteading and try to find ways justify how they plan to make money. The problem is, there are a lot of homesteading activities that won’t make you money at first or ever. So where do you start?
This starts deciding what homesteading activity you’d like to take on and examining it in detail. A great example I have is my Giant Angora Rabbits. Nearly two years ago I was researching a variety of small homestead-type animals, trying to figure out what would be a good addition to our farm. I was really interested in some sort of fiber animal as I am an avid knitter and would love to learn to spin my own yarn. I looked into sheep and some fiber goats but they both seemed to be a bit intimidating at the time. I resolved that angora rabbits might be a good fit. I looked up the costs of such rabbits, their feed consumption needs, housing, and how much fiber they would produce yearly. I decided this would be a profitable animal. I announced my plan to my boyfriend that I would get 1-2 female giant angora rabbits (giants seemly being the most profitable of the angora breeds), and would make enough cash selling their wool to cover their costs and maybe put a little profit in the bank.
That spring I brought home 3 female giant angora rabbits from a local fiber fair. I had intended on purchasing 2 baby rabbits but the breeder had a bit of a mix up and one of the females that was reserved for me turned out to be a male so she instead offered me an adult female at half price, a baby female at full price, and a free-bee young female that she planned to cull due to her small size. So, I came home with my 3 discount rabbits and felt like I was on my way to making some real rabbit profits. I hadn’t planned the housing situation out as much as I should and decided to convert our brooder box into a makeshift group rabbit pen. Luckily for me, the three girls got along for the most part. I should note that most rabbits don’t do well in group living conditions so I was taking a huge unnecessary risk with my set up.
Tragedy struck only a month in and my baby female (yes the one I paid full price for) became very ill. I noticed that the linoleum liner I had placed in the brooder box was significantly chewed. I should also note here this was a rookie rabbit owner mistake. Rabbits chew everything and I had foolishly thought me putting a nice linoleum liner in their box would make their living quarters more sanitary. Here’s where I make things worse. While I had considered everything that was needed to keep these rabbits alive when they’re healthy, I had never thought of how I would react if they needed veterinary attention. All our other homestead animals (excluding pet dogs) don’t receive official veterinary care. We forgo vet care for two reasons. 1.The majority of our animals are low cost animals so paying hundreds in vet bills would not make financial sense. 2. A lot of the animals we raise are for meat purposes so if they have an injury or illness we’d rather cull them then to attempt to nurse them back to health and eat them.
So, I was at a crossroad, do I kill this expensive, rare, young rabbit? Or, do I take it to the vet, hopefully saving her life and hopefully not breaking the bank in the process? I chose to take her to the vet, where I then agreed to x-rays, only to find out that she needed to be euthanized. The bill was several hundred dollars and I went home with a dead rabbit in a box. I got an earful when I got home but I justified my decision with my thoughts on attempting to save my investment.
I continued to raise my two female rabbits, shearing them seasonally and occasionally selling some wool. My rabbits continued to not make money and I could see the disapproval in my other half’s eyes at the aspect of having very valuable, seemly useless, pet rabbits. So, I came up with a plan. First, I would change my strategy on selling my wool. I was shearing my buns 4 times per year, and 4 times per year I would try to unload the 7-10 ounces of fiber I was getting off of them. When I did find a buyer, I was usually met with “that’s all you have available?”. I decided that I would start stockpiling my wool and try to sell it just a once or twice per year but in bulk.
Next, I would get into breeding. After my prize rabbit died, I began perusing the internet in search of a replacement. I quickly found that Giant Angoras were not easy to come by and that if I wanted to make a go of raising them, I would need to consider creating my own. So, I found a breeder in Kentucky and gave her a deposit to purchase a little female from her. I brought this little female home in the fall and started searching again for another breeder that I could acquire a nice male rabbit from. I was super fortunate to find a young male rabbit, of a rare color, that would be available to me the following spring at a show 3 hours from me. I promptly sent the breeder the funds to secure him as mine and just had to sit back and wait until spring.
Tragedy struck again. My new little female became ill over the winter and I again chose to take her to the vet. She seemed to be doing better than the last rabbit I brought in, so I was optimistic. The vet looked her over and took x-rays and explained that she had “wool-block”. This happens when a rabbit ingests too much if her own wool while grooming herself. He told me I could elect to euthanize her or they could take her into surgery and try to get the wool out. She seemed alert and rather energetic, so I agreed to the surgery. I went off to work and prayed I didn’t just throw several hundred dollars at another dead rabbit. About 2 hours later I received a call that my rabbit survived surgery and was doing great, I could pick her up in a few hours. I was over the moon! I told myself “the money spent will be worth it, she will go on to make beautiful baby rabbits that will more than pay for this surgery”. I was feeling great, until the phone rang again. It was the vet, my rabbit had, for seemly no reason at all other than she’s a rabbit, suddenly died. After work I went to the vet, paid my shockingly high bill, and put my dead rabbit in the car to drive home to bury.
I did not buy a replacement rabbit. Instead, when it came time the following spring to pick up my male rabbit, I went and got him and quickly bred him to my unpedigreed young female (you know, the free-bee). I was shocked when she gave birth to 8 babies and even more shocked when I was able to sell all of them within hours of them reaching the appropriate age. I was back in business! The breeder whom I gotten my late female from contact me and want to know if I would take a female from her for free, in exchange for pick of the litter when I bred her to my rare colored male. I couldn’t believe my luck!
I’m now selling wool in bulk, a few times per year, and breeding 1-2 litters of babies yearly. This is bringing in enough money to dig me out of the “vet bill” hole I dug myself. With any luck my rabbits will be profitably by the end of next year.
Why did I tell that story?
Well, because that is how a lot of money-making endeavors go on a homestead. You may think you have a plan to make money but often you are going to need to work hard just to break even. Once you breakeven you can evaluate what you need to do to start making a profit. So here is a breakdown on what to consider before wasting all of your money.
Questions to ask yourself
Here’s the thing guys, we all want to believe that those cute baby goats are totally going to be easy to care for and make you money. The problem is they won’t. Whatever you are looking at adding to your homestead, make sure to consider the following.
Why “Nothing Eats For Free” is so important to our homestead
You may be reading this and think “hey if I want cute useless animals and I can afford it why shouldn’t I?”. That’s a fair question and I was on that same train of thought when I bought my property but, frankly, reality can be a bitch. Shortly after buying my property I got a raise at work, a REALLY nice raise. It was an extra $10k a year that I 100% wasn’t expecting. I began thinking about all of the cute farm animals I could get, can you say “mini cow!”. Looking back I don’t know how I kept myself restrained but I did and I’m really glad. My pay has fluctuated greatly over the years and had I accumulated a collection of cute useless animals I would no doubt have had to rehome some of them by now.
The reason “Nothing Eats For Free” is so important is because when everything has a purpose everything has a reason to stay. As soon as things start getting expensive or just plain too hard, you are going to start looking at all the useless things on your homestead. Now I want to mention that you may never see those pot belly pigs as useless, no matter how tight your checkbook gets, but your partner will. Now you will have a war on your hands with arguments such as “why do we have those useless things” and “did you see how much money we wasted on their feed this month”.
If everything has a purpose, then theoretically everything deserves to stay on your homestead. Also, if everything is at least breaking even, you can usually find a way to turn “breaking even” into “making money”. Things that are on your homestead that are losing you money are essentially holding the whole homestead back. Even if half your animals are profitable, they probably can’t compensate for the money lost on the others. Having a “nothing eats for free” moto ensures your homesteads future and pushes it to improve year after year.
From the ages of 12-22 I was a vegetarian. Yep, this chicken farmer ate zero meat for a decade. I stopped eating meat at the tender age of 12 because I had been doing volunteer work in a dairy barn and couldn’t stomach eating animals after I saw how affectionate and puppy-like cows can be. So how’d I get here, homesteading and raising my own poultry?
At the age of 22 I became dissatisfied with my health. I was thin, actually very thin for my naturally curve frame, and had low muscle tone despite my efforts at the gym. I also began to battle severe panic attacks that seemed to come on for no reason at all. For the record I’m not saying being a vegetarian isn’t a healthy lifestyle, I’m just saying it didn’t work for me.
I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet and I felt a major improvement. I was definitely heavier, which in a way bummed me out, but I felt much stronger and I decided that was more important. While my vegetarian lifestyle is a thing of the past, my view towards animal suffering is not. Seeing an animal and accepting that your going to be the reason it dies is sobering to say the least. When my boyfriend originally declared that we would get meat chickens I was apprehensive. Could I do that? What if I got attached to them? What if watching them be killed traumatized me to the point I couldn’t sleep? All of these feelings are valid especially if you come from a city or suburban background where your food comes from the grocery store.
So how’d I address these feelings? Well, regardless on where you are getting your meat, I think it’s important to face the facts that it was an animal who was alive and is now not to feed you. Whether you killed it yourself or bought it at the store, it died for you. Having respect for the process is what keeps me doing it and actually makes me feel pretty damn good about raising our birds.
The number one fact to accept is we all die. Plain and simple, I’m going to die, people reading this are going to die, the squirrel that just ran through the yard yeah he’s going to die too. Some people think causing the death of something else is what bothers them about butchering an animal but I’d argue otherwise. What bothers me is the suffering. I bet everyone reading this has heard of or seen a documentary on the conditions animals are put through in large factory farming. From the day they are born to the day they die they suffer. That’s not okay with me and is the main reason I resorted to vegetarianism as a kid.
My solution is making sure my animals live the best life possible. Our meat birds free range in poultry tractors on pasture so they get fresh grass and bugs everyday. They are exposed to warm sunshine and fresh air. And after 10-12 weeks they are, one by one, gently removed from their pen and killed in a quick and humane matter in which I’m pretty sure they don’t even realize what's happening. I don’t want my animals to feel stress and we try to prevent them from feeling any pain in the process of “shepherding them to the other side”. I’ve actually witnessed the last chicken in a group, as it’s waiting it’s turn to be butchered, yawning and stretching out in his new found spacious pen, oblivious to the fact that all of the other chickens are dead and heading to my freezer. I don’t know about you but I’d like to feel that relaxed moments before I take the dirt nap.
Once the animal has been killed it’s important to remind yourself that they are dead and gone. I say this because it can be a little unnerving to see a chicken you just saw moments ago alive plucked and cut up into pieces. I struggled with that my first time, having “knee-jerk” type reactions to not wanting to pull their feathers off or looking away as their legs were cut off. Again these are understandable feelings but you can better wrap your mind around them when you are honest with yourself about what your actually seeing. Once the bird dies it’s essentially a piece of meat you are preparing for a future meal.
I think it’s important to have your own experiences with raising meat and handle them on your own terms. I say this because while I fully respect anyone who raises large livestock, like cows and pigs, I don’t feel that I’m mentally prepared for that just yet. The reason being is that the law here (and maybe all of the US I’m not sure) dictates that no one can butcher and sell pigs or cows themselves. They must go to a state licensed kill house and processor before being sold. This means that regardless of how well you treat your pigs and cows, the last moments of their life will involve a decent amount of stress and perhaps a little suffering as you loose control of the final step of the process. I don’t take issue with people raising cows and pigs, I just know, with where I am mentally right now on the subject, I would struggle with knowing my animals’ last moments weren’t peaceful.
If you’re not ready to butcher your own animals don’t worry it’s not going to make you less of a homesteader. Just be open to thinking about death and suffering vs putting it to the back of your mind because it’s an uncomfortable subject. You will grow and develop your feelings on the subject at your own pace and no doubt feel better about the subject overall.
Harvest time is the most important time of any homesteaders year. Now depending on what exactly harvesting, this time could be in the spring, summer, or fall but regardless of when it is, it will determine whether or not your season was a success. A lot of novice gardeners (i.e me two years ago and arguably still now), will see the harvest time as the “fun” part. They envision themselves skipping out to the garden and picking beautifully ripened fruits and vegetables. I won’t lie, this part is often fun but it doesn’t stay that way. Here’s a few things to think about before your harvest to ensure your homestead gets the most out of their bounty.
Work hard before harvest to ensure it happens
I feel that often there is a lot of focus on 2 events when it comes to growing food, the beginning and the end. If we are talking about vegetables this often means people focus on planting your crops and then when you pull them from the garden. For meat animals it may be when you buy them and when you butcher. Neither the beginning or the end are most important, its what happens in between. Sure there are good things to be said about getting your plants or animals off to a good start but a good start will only get you so far. There are plenty of gardeners out there that put beautiful young plants in the ground in the spring, only to end up with an overgrown weed bed by August.
The best thing you can do for your harvest is make sure it actually can happen. I try not to think too much about the work maybe not being worth it in the end. Let me expand on that, there will usually be at least one or two things in your garden that you start but they simply don’t progress and in that situation it’s okay to pull those plants out but only if you have another plan for that area. This season I grew a whole section of rainbow bell peppers that never took off so in July I elected to tear them out and prep that area for my fall vegetables.
Always make it a priority to see through any of your food production all the way to harvest. If you don’t know if you can keep up with it don’t start it. Starting something you can’t finish is a great way to waste time, space, and money. My struggle this year was planting pole beans instead of bush beans. I had a total mental hiccup when I bought the pole bean seeds as we always grow bush beans and I had no climbing medium for the pole beans. I have, haphazardly, added climbing objects near the beans but I added them far too late and it will affect my harvest.
Tools are important
Anytime you are growing something new or if it’s something you’re familiar with but your growing A LOT more, think about what tools you need. We have two big beautiful apple trees that seem to be loaded with apples every other year. Well two years ago I was excited to get my first big apple harvest since buying my property, and I set out with a ladder to do some picking. I quickly realized I was ill prepared. The ground was far from flat turning my ladder idea into a botched suicide attempt. I also had brought a 5 gallon bucket out with me to put the apples in but once I was up on my death trap of a ladder it became impossible to get the apples from the tree to the bucket without bruising them horribly. Even though I had waited all summer for those apples to be ripe and had plenty of time to think about harvesting them, I was still unprepared for my harvest. This year I invested in a $9 fruit picker off amazon and used an extension pole to pick more than 5 times as many apples off the same trees.
Another tool I’ve found I can’t live without is an apple peeler. Luckily, during my small harvest two years prior, a family friend lent me their apple picker when they saw me hand peeling apples with a vegetable peeler. I acquired two beautiful apple peeler/slicer tools after that and my harvest this year was much easier.
Harvesting is hard work and may require some reinforcements
This is often a trial and error type of issue. Until you has some experience harvesting you won’t know how much time and man power it will take but it might be safe to invite a few friends over just in case. A great example I have of this is my boyfriend’s parents growing sweet corn. They typically grow more sweet corn than they could ever eat so in the past we’ve helped them pick, cook, and bag sweet corn in exchange for some free corn for our freezer. We have also done this regarding processing our chickens with a few friends, but don’t be afraid to not give away any of your harvest if you don’t want to. Some people resort to actually paying people to help them but we like to function on a favor swapping system. There’s nothing set in stone but we over to help our friends with their harvests and it’s implied that they will try to help with yours.
Time is a top commodity
Time is an unforgiving harsh reality. When it’s time to harvest you can’t negotiate with your plants or animals to give you more time. I suggest keeping some sort of calendar and plan to clear your social events if you can during harvest times. You will also need to watch the weather forecast as this could take a 5 day harvest window and take it down to an afternoon. When harvesting our turkeys this year we were battling a time crutch that involved our overgrown turkeys and my boyfriend being out of town almost constantly for work. We ended up carving out 1 afternoon that we had available to process these birds. This resulted in us packaging and weighing turkeys, in the dark at 10pm. Harvesting waits for no one.
Don’t forget about storage
Storage has become my nemesis. We have a large chest freezer, a small chest freezer, and a basement fridge/freezer combo in addition to our standard kitchen fridge/freezer combo. We never have enough freezer space this time of year. Historically, we’ve always preferred to freeze our garden veggies out of convenience but unless we want to invest in another freezer we need to go a different route. We’ve resorted to canning this year. Canning is quite the process and does require an upfront investment in jars and basic canning equipment. It also takes quite a bit of time when it comes to preparing the fruit or veggie, sterilizing everything, then actually canning it. While we are going to save freezer space we still need to put these cans somewhere so I also had to invest in a shelving unit in the basement. Remember that you can only eat so much fresh fruits and veggies so be sure to plan on where you will store your harvest.
Reviewing Your Harvest
This is the easiest step of harvest, reviewing what you did well and what you didn’t. Identifying what slowed you down or caused you to waste some of your harvest is no doubt useful information. Perhaps you had a great harvest. You were prepared and everything went smooth, but now your looking at a mound of, lets say butternut squash, that you’ll never eat in 5 years. So now you know to grow 75% less squash plants next year. Every step of homesteading is a learning experience and even a gang-buster harvest could provide you with great info to do even better next year!
I, understandably, have read a lot of homesteader blogs. Pinterest is a gift from the heavens and I honestly love loosing myself there for several hours at a time. However, there’s a lot of, shall we say junk, floating around on there. Homesteading blogs in particular are riddled with vague, clickbait-type articles that provide aspiring homesteaders with little more substance than a ritz cracker. So let’s talk about how you can cancel out the noise of useless articles and blogs and focus on information you can actually use. Go through your pinterest board and re-consider any articles like the ones below.
#1. Anything that mentions making money on a homestead- especially if they say something stupid like “in the first year”.
First of all let me say that you CAN make money on a homestead but to truly do it takes an immense amount of time and dedication. Most money making activities on a farm require upfront investments. A great example is our meat chickens. This year, on paper, we made a few hundred dollars profit raises meat chickens. I kept a spreadsheet of all costs (chicks, feed, the shrink wrap bags we package them in, etc) and was happy to report to my other half that we essentially had “free” chicken in the freezer because by selling some of them we had recouped enough money to cover our costs of raising them. As much as I would love to think we made money on our chickens in reality we didn’t. We didn’t because there are many other costs I didn’t consider. We raised those chicks for the first 3 weeks in a brooder box that we made 2 years ago. Then we moved them out to a tractor we re-vamped last year. Then we plucked them in a chicken plucker we bought last spring. I didn’t take into consideration any of the costs associated with building or buying those things. Even though we will continue to use all of them, hopefully for years to come, I should still be figuring that in. So yes while I did put cash in my pocket this year, I would be a liar to tell you that you also could make a few hundred dollars next year chicken farming. Any other homestead source of income will also include an investment of some sort making it nearly impossible to make a dime for the first several years.
Another great example of this is a Pinterst article/blog I came across talking about buying $12 worth of fodder to grow 250lbs of feed. I read the article, it was well written, it has gorgeous photography, but you know what it didn’t have? All the facts. The article detailed that you’d need to buy $12 worth of barley seed, okay fair enough, but then it went on to say you needed 27 seed trays and 3 shelving units. Now, giving the writer the benefit of the doubt, perhaps you, the reader, have those things just lying around to use but more likely than not you’re going to have to go buy them. Oh yea and there was this little detail about light. The writer admitted at the end of the post that she grows her fodder in a room with a window and alternates the trays so they all get a turn at grabbing some sunlight. What if you only have a basement to work with? Now you’re buying grow lights. Where I buy my feed, it is a little less than $12 per 50lb bag, meaning 250lbs of feed costs me about $60. So if I had to buy even half the stuff I listed would it be worth it, probably not. Also, a good quality feed doesn’t contain just one ingredient so you really can’t equate growing fodder in your basement as equivalent to providing your animals with nutritious food.
I’ve also seen this subject in regards to saving a ton of money by free ranging your animals and not feeding them actual feed. This is an outright lie. It has been reported by multiple agricultural agencies that chickens can only get 0-10% of their nutritional needs from free ranging. Even if you have the lushest pasture around, they are going to be malnourished chickens. Now to be fair, I do free range my birds as well as offer them fresh feed everyday and notice that they consume less feed when they are free ranging in the summer. So if you were looking at whether you could save money on feed by free ranging I’d venture that’s an accurate statement but you can’t eliminate a balanced feed from the equation.
#2 Going along with the “money” theme, beware of anything about frugal homesteading
Frugal homesteading is one of the top subjects on pinterest in regards to homesteading. It’s not that researching ways to save money is a bad thing, it just shouldn’t be your main object. I know what you’re thinking, “why is it wrong if I want to be savvy with my money on my homestead?”. There’s nothing wrong with it but it’s like saying I want to build me dream house but I want to be $100k under budget. If you’re going to do something do it right and doing something right usually doesn’t mean doing it cheap. Everything on your homestead should be viewed as an investment and pinching pennies every step of the way is going to leave you with a lot of broken down junk that needs replaced often. Take the time necessary to identify what you need, whether it’s a tool or the proper building plans for a coop, and then build or buy something you can rely on and be proud of. On the flip side, if you can find the rare unicorn of a situation in which you save money and reliably solve a homesteading problem, good for you! I’m just saying you’re not going to build a homestead on the principle of being frugal. I believe these posts are popular because people start researching homesteading and get intimidated but the upfront costs (this is a totally legitimate concern by the way), so they turn to catchy titled articles like “the frugal homesteaders guild to living a sustainable lifestyle today”.
#3 Pay attention to who the author is and where they live
I try to be as upfront as possible in my posts regarding my experience level. I will not claim to be an expert in much of anything but I will share my experiences and found knowledge with you. Some homestead bloggers are doing the same thing, sharing their successes and failures with readers to help them navigate homesteading, but unfortunately some are not. Much too often I catch myself reading an article and taking the information to heart, only to realize halfway through the post that the individual has no first hand experience with the subject they are writing about. Using terms like “most farms do …” followed by details on how other people do things is not helpful. There is a TON of noise out there on the subject of homesteading and I know I don’t need to be wasting time getting useless advice.
If the writer does have first hand experience look for clues regarding on what level. I have 12 laying hens right now and I’m comfortable giving others some advice on how to raise a small flock of backyard hens for eggs. I’m not going to write about how to quit your job and live off the profits from selling eggs, but other people do. If the writer admits to homesteading on less than an acre of land but then writes about how to raise a herd of beef cattle, it’s best to delete that pin.
Lastly, if you a read a post about growing something and it sounds informative, double check where the reader lives. Their advice might be fantastic in the climate in which they live but it may be a total bust where you are. One good example is a post I came across about the top 10 fruit trees you need to plant on your homestead. I found myself questioning “will these trees grow here”, “do they grow here but not well”, “are they crazy expensive”, and most importantly “do I even like these fruits”. Trying to primarily “follow” or “pin” homestead bloggers that live near you will help you immensely down the line.
#4 Use extreme caution around “top # ways to…..” type posts
I used to be overwhelming guilty of this. That is, pinning posts with titles like “the top 5 animals to have on your homestead”, “the top 50 things to make a profit on your homestead”, “the top 10 vegetables to plant in your garden”. These, sadly, are primarily garbage. Sorry other bloggers who love using these titles, it’s true. First of all, saying the “top” whatever of anything doesn’t hold any weight. “Top” according to who? The writer, a survey of homesteaders, maybe an actual credible source? Even if you trust who is rating said subjects as “top”, these posts usually consist of vague talking points quickly summarized before moving on to the next numbered topic. Also, I’ve found that the higher that number of subjects, the more useless the post is overall. My example of “Top 50 things that make a profit on your homestead” is a real post and it literally is a paragraph or two followed by a 1-50 list of one-liner ideas of how to make money on your homestead. Not one thing on the list is described in any sort of detail. The reason these posts are so dangerous to homesteaders is because they are easy. Some homesteaders jump into the lifestyle with both feet and LOVE to be able to print off a list and get to shopping (see here “top 5 animals to have on your homestead”). If they run out and buy those animals they will probably end up failing spectacularly. Don’t shortcut your research with a vague list.
So where can you get your advice?
There are still a lot of good sources of information out there so don’t get discouraged after you look at your trimmed down Pinterest Homesteading board. Articles and blogs are still a fantastic source of information, just be sure to familiarize yourself with the author and watch out for clues they may not know what they are talking about. Outside of the internet are the best resources you can find, other homesteaders. I’m attending a homesteader themed convention this weekend and there are a ton of homesteading rockstars here that are both teaching seminars and selling their products. The same parameters apply to in person homesteaders as with online ones, make sure you hear about their background which I’m sure they’d love to tell you. If you can make friends with another, more experienced, homesteader their advice will be worth their weight in gold.
Create a situation to succeed
I'm a 30-year-old, female "homesteader" living in barely rural northeast Ohio. I bought my 2 acres of heaven a little over 4 years ago and have been working to turn it into the homestead of my dreams. Well, more like the homestead of my dreams within my budget. Nonetheless, dreams are coming true out here!
I'm fortunate enough to have a partner in crime, my boyfriend, who grew up on an actual farm and has a plethora of knowledge on like subjects. In the past 4 years, we took this dumpster of a house and transformed it into a magazine-worthy rural palace. I believe the nickname we gave it during renovations was "The Taj Ma Hut". In between the never-ending house projects we tried to move forward with some animal and garden endeavors we both had our hearts set on.
My journey began as a kid, yep I'm going all the way back to childhood. To say I was an animal lover was an understatement. I loved anything to do with animals or nature. I spent countless hours watching the discovery channel when other kids were watching Nickelodeon. I proclaimed at a young age that I wanted to be a veterinarian primarily because that seemed to be the only adult profession I knew that involved animals.
For my 11th Christmas, someone gave me a book about becoming a veterinarian. I read it cover to cover and quickly informed my parents that I needed to start doing some volunteer work at a local vet clinic if I wanted to get into vet school (per the book's advice). My mother called around and not surprisingly all the local clinics said I was far too young to volunteer with them. One of the clinics suggested we look into the local FarmPark. Yes, you read that correctly, I lived in an area that had a publicly funded "park" that was essentially a farm which put on educational demonstrations.
I started volunteering in the park's "Dairy Parlor" the following summer. I fed, groomed, milked, and cleaned up after 6 dairy cows, 1-2 occasional calves, and a few goat kids from time to time. I was in absolute heaven. I didn't have an appreciation at the time for the production of milk that was happening before my eyes but I loved taking care of the animals. I loved everything about it. The routine of making sure everyone had what they needed throughout the day and the excitement of new calves born almost monthly became the highlight of my young life. I was hooked on farming at that point. I didn't know how or when but I knew that someday I would end up living on a farm.
A few years into volunteering at the dairy parlor, I secured a real paying job at a local vet clinic and left the cows behind. I went on to work at the clinic for six years but ultimately decided 2 years in that becoming a veterinarian wasn't for me. I found no joy in performing routine vaccinations and spay/neuter operations, which appeared to be most of what veterinarians did. Also, the reality of going to college for 6+ years after high school made me want to vomit.
I started my college career as a zoology major, thinking I might be able to get involved in captive breeding programs at a zoo. At that point, I was grasping at straws to keep animals in my chosen profession. The reality of college costs hit me hard during my freshman year and I elected to change my major to business administration in hopes of securing a job after graduation. To be clear, I did have an interest in business administration, and the decision to change majors was easy when I found out that the likelihood of me getting hired by a zoo as anything other than a zookeeper for 10+ years after college was slim to none. I was in college during the financial crisis and I couldn't stomach graduating with a mountain of student loan debt and no job.
After college, I got a fairly boring project manager job. I always did well at work but I was never passionate about what I was doing. The 2 years following college I dated a man, a much older man, who sold me on an "off-grid" lifestyle. I wasn't sure about the whole "off-grid" thing but raising animals and gardening interested me so I went along with it. I began gardening at my parents' house and started reading up on homesteading. I found myself going down the rabbit hole, if you will, in regards to everything homesteading related. The thought of living off the land started to consume my mind and every aspect of my future plans involved the lifestyle.
A little over 2 years into my relationship with my much older man, it fell apart. I found myself lost not over the loss of the relationship but over the loss of direction. This man already owned land (or so he said, that's a story for another time) and also had blueprint plans for the house we were going to build. I went from talking with builders regarding when the footers of my house were going into sitting at my parents' bungalow with no money and no direction. There I was, 23, still living at my parents, with a mountain of student loan debt, and a boring job.
Ages 23-24 became the "me" years. I decided somehow I was going to accomplish my homesteading dreams on my own but I had no idea how. Instead of wallowing over what I couldn't do I started moving forward on focusing on my hobbies and paying down debt. I took up biking and started to rack up the miles. I also became a moderate hiker and even took a trip over to the hike the Appalachian Trail where I hiked a section with a friend. In the remainder of my spare time, I researched homesteading and tried to improve my skills. I bought a "teach yourself to knit" book and did just that. Knitting blankets and dishcloths in the evenings became my norm. In the summers I tackled gardening. My gardening skills were pathetic. I literally had no idea what I was doing and I don't know if I ate more than a few bell peppers and some lettuce of mine during those years. My parents didn't garden so I wasn't ever exposed to how to grow anything as a child. I was essentially teaching myself. I also only had an 8' X 8' raised bed to work. I was determined to learn though and I think that's what matters most with acquiring any skill.
When I was nearly 25 I met my other half. He is an avid outdoorsman who grew up on a legit farm. We casually dated for the first six months or so by which point I had paid off enough student loan debt that I could start shopping for a house and some property. At age 26 I was able to buy my beautiful 2 acres of heaven and my partner and I started on our homesteading path.
We've been together six years and have accomplished a full remodel of our home. We are now raising chickens, turkeys, and giant angora rabbits. Our garden space has expanded from nothing to over 2,000 square feet this year. In total, we harvest blueberries, apples, pears, sweet corn, popcorn, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, blueberry tomatoes, green beans, carrots, peas, broccoli, and lettuce. I have big plans to transition our front acre, which is essentially a useless yard, into more garden space. I'd also like to add more fruit trees, berry bushes, and a bee hive in the coming years.
This seemly success of homesteading would not have been possible had I not changed my career path. Previously I had resolved that if I made more money I could make my homesteading dreams come true faster. This led me to jump company to company when I saw an opportunity to advance. For a while, I accomplished my goal of making more money, increasing my yearly salary by $20k in less than 2 years but something was missing. My homestead seemed to advance no faster even though I had more money. Why is this you ask? Well, money doesn't buy time and with every career advancement came more responsibilities and in some cases more travel. This issue was exacerbated when my other half took a new job that he absolutely loves but required him to travel the majority of the time spring through fall.
By early 2019 I was living in a homestead that was stuck. There were plenty of things to be done but no one to do them. A higher power stepped in the spring of 2019 to put us back on track. In April of that year, I was laid off. My job performance had been great, but the company overall was struggling and rumor had it they couldn't afford to make payroll anymore. On a Wednesday, I and 20 other employees were walked out of the building with cardboard boxes full of our possessions. I was unemployed with no notice and no severance.
I called my boyfriend who was again out of town and told him the news. He didn't understand and neither did I. When he came back into town a few days later he asked me what I thought I was going to do. I told him I know what I'm about to say isn't even possible, but I don't want to work for anyone else again. I was fed up with giving my everything to a job that didn't repay the favor (i.e. no raise or promotions which is why I jumped company to company every time there was a hint of an opportunity for something better). After a few more days of reflection, I started job hunting and resolved that if I could swing it I would find something close to home, with 0 travel, and hopefully, it paid okay. A few weeks into job searching I secured an interview with a large, well known, international clothing company for a digital marketplace specialist (exactly what I was). I had carefully crafted my cover letter to inform the interviewer that I lived in Ohio and planned to stay there so although this company was based in Seattle I was happy to work productively from home if they agreed. I also went on to eloquently say that I was only interested in this position if I could work remote and had 0 interest in moving. I started fantasizing about making tons of money while also having time to homestead. The interview went fantastic! I was smiling ear to ear, connecting so well with this woman. She repeatedly said, "oh you sound perfect for this, I'm so glad you applied". Then came the phrase I had been dreading but had somehow forgotten could becoming "so when are you planning to move to Seattle?". My heart sank as I tried to, as politely as possible, say "didn't you read my cover letter?". She hadn't, actually, she hadn't even thought to. She quickly wrapped up the call and said if I change my mind about moving to let her know.
I moved on to applying other places and as the weeks went on I became restless. After a few hit or miss type interviews I had narrowed my options down to two jobs. Both companies were in fields I was interested in, one being a mason jar accessory company and the other a large scale greenhouse that sold orchids nationwide. The fact that I was interested in both subjects is where the similarities ended. The mason jar company was based out of state, a bit over an hour away so I had applied with the same cover letter story of "I want this job but need to work remote". Thankfully they were on board with me working remote but the offered salary was over $20k less than I was making previously, ouch! The orchid company was in state but actually a further drive at almost an hour and a half away. I also breached the subject of working remote and was basically ignored each time I brought it up during the 3 interviews with them. The salary with the orchid company was better at only $5k less than I had been making. I would also have a fancier title of "Director of Ecommerce".
This was a turning point for me. The old me would have taken the better paying job with better career trajectory and sucked up the fact that I would be loosing 3+ hours a day in my car. I could always start and then once they saw how good I was, demand to work from home part-time. But what would happen to my homestead? Isn't the whole point of working being able to pursue your passions in your off time? The more I pondered my options the more it made me sick to my stomach to think of wasting so much of my time sitting in my car every day. How much would I hate my life 6 months from now? Would expanding my garden or raising more rabbits need to be put on hold this year while I tried out this job?
It was a freeing decision to take the other job. The lack of money is depressing at times, thinking about walking away from $15k would put anyone in a blue mood. But as I work now I stare out the patio door at my back acre, watching chickens and turkeys free-range. I also have a great view of my garden and how it is progressing. I've been able to save one of my hens from a hawk attack because I was home. I'm also able to start on projects as soon as the clock strikes 5 pm most days, not having to waste time commuting home. Oh, and sleeping! I've never been able to consistently get so much sleep before in my adult life. I get up around 7:45 am, stay in my PJs, and get to work. I use my lunch break time to take a quick shower and maybe run an errand. I'm also able to start dinner so we can eat decent meals and a decent time without feeling rushed.
This summer has been a huge leap forward for our homestead. We've raised 100+ meat chickens, 14 turkeys, our first litter of giant angora rabbits, and we've expanded our garden immensely! Our berry and fruit harvest has been epic for us and I've even been able to dive into my first fermenting and my first canning experiences.
The best part about all of this is there are SO many more things I want to try! I've created a situation for myself where nothing is holding me back from pursuing my dreams and it's only but exciting opportunities and adventures ahead.
The purpose of this blog is not to tell you how to create and grow your homestead but how to forge your homesteading paths that will allow you to live your dream on your terms. I found that on my homesteading journey I've found a lot of great information regarding many different aspects of homesteading. For instance, you can find blogs detailing how to properly plan your garden or what animals are best to raise on less than an acre but what about the big picture? There no one homesteader out there that will have every answer to every question you have. Homesteading is not an all or nothing lifestyle, it's a journey. If you're considering homesteading it's because there is something about your current lifestyle that isn't satisfying.
My blog may have the tips and tricks you may be searching for. You'll without a doubt see my successes and the predictable failures that stem from my suburban background. I'll even throw in some pretty pictures of our land and animals, but the focus of this blog is why we homestead and how to make your journey your own. You don't wake up one day, buy a piece of land, and BOOM you're a homesteader! It's a lifelong pursuit of obtaining a seemingly simpler, more self-sustainable lifestyle. There will never be a time that every project is complete, and you'll develop a deep appreciation for everything you've accomplished while still having a yearning to do more. Please don't believe anyone who tells you they've mastered homesteading. It's not something that can be mastered. Your skills will improve, you will accomplish great things, and perhaps you'll even mentor future homesteaders as they embark on their journey.