I had dreamed of homesteading most of my life. I read the Little House series so many times I could recite entire passages. I bought my first copy of Mother Earth News in 1972 with some babysitting money. I made patchwork maxi skirts and went barefoot. I knew that when I finally was old enough to leave home I would somehow find a property to homestead and eventually marry a like-minded guy with soulful, romantic eyes who quoted poetry to me as we sat watching the sunset.
So okay, maybe not. I went into the military and ended up marrying a Marine. Although he has wonderful eyes, they are not the soulful, romantic poet's eyes I dreamed of so long ago. It's a good thing, too. A poet would never make it as a homesteader.
Do You Really Want a Homestead?
It is easy to watch people on television homestead. It is fun to read the articles in the various magazines aimed at homesteaders and small farmers and get the "homesteading bug". You can easily find yourself creating a scenario where you have the perfect bucolic existence complete with background music.
I don't know if you have ever watched the old Christmas movie, Holiday Inn. It stars Bing Crosby as a successful man who ditches it all for a farm in the country. I used to watch the scenes of his first few months on the farm with laughter. Now I nod my head in empathy. Romantic dreams and notions will run screaming into the night with in a very short time. Why? No matter what you think it is going to be like you are wrong.
Down and Dirty
The first reality to hit me was the dirt. There is just no good way to keep away from it. I was an organized cleanie, even dusting the tops of door frames on a monthly basis. The everyday reality of manure, mud, and compost coupled with the normal dirt in an old house was overwhelming. Sometimes it still is.
As I write this it has been raining in the Dallas area for four days. There is mud everywhere. Our creek has flooded the pasture but as yet the animals are safe. We will take turns staying up tonight to keep watch and see if we need to move the animals. If the water gets high enough this means I could have eight goats in my laundry room in the morning doing what goats do. It won't be pretty folks...and it won't be the first time.
Fighting the City
Earlier this year our city approached me about our chickens. Apparently there is a little enforced law on the books that makes backyard chickens the equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde. They battled it in my front yard and I took it to the Internet. The chickens are still here. You will battle the city and your neighbors if you don't get out far enough. Try to find a place with a nice buffer zone. Fifty acres on each side of your house should do it. When we bought our property we knew the majority of it was in a 100 year flood plain. As our town and others along the creek grew there was a lot of poor planning when it came to the water runoff. Even suggestions that were made by the Army Corps of Engineers were ignored in the name of progress. Our property now floods at least once a year. Not just a tiny trickle but a huge deluge from a roaring creek that moved our barn eight feet to the left one year. We find ourselves in the elite group of folks that doesn't get along very well with city hall. Granted we are not as far out of town as some of you would be. Our tiny acreage is only a mile or two from the center of the town. We needed to be close in at the time and now for a variety of reasons we are unable to find a buyer so we can get out further. Life and Death Whether or not you choose to butcher your animals you will face life and death regularly on the homestead. Animals get sick, they become prey, and they have accidents. My city-boy son in law was living here during kidding season two years ago. I went out for the evening, Marc wasn't home, and one of our does went into a difficult labor. One of the kids was breach and stuck and the doe was fighting his help. He is not an animal sort of person but he literally rolled up his sleeves and went after that kid. He turned it and helped her birth it with the help of my 12 year old daughter. He looked like Sam the Butcher when I got home but the goat kids (she had four, one didn't make it) were all delivered and she is alive today because he just did what needed to be done. Watching a chicken get picked off by a hawk or raccoon and not being able to stop it is frustrating. Walking a colicky horse for eight hours in the rain is cold, wet, and exhausting. Putting an animal down with a .22 because it is in pain that can't be alleviated is heartbreaking. Can you handle those things emotionally? If you don't believe in killing animals how are you going to handle the marauding raccoon that tears the heads off your chickens, in broad daylight, while they are laying eggs? What about the neighbor's dog that runs loose and chases your goats? These are normal issues; you will face them and you will have to make a decision about them. Hard Work and Total Exhaustion During the spring months you will have an excessive amount of food: - Eggs - Milk - Spring veggies If you milk you will have so much that you will need to do something with it or it will spoil. Canning, making cheese, dehydrating, and other preservation techniques take time. You may find that you are working far into the night to get it all done. In the mornings, even though you are exhausted you have to get up and start over. It is truly satisfying to make a tomato and onion sandwich on homemade bread with homegrown tomatoes. It is even better when you can add a homemade pickle to the plate and some homemade peppered chevre on homemade crackers. The thing is what if you get tired? All of that preparation and preserving means you can't suddenly drop it all and decide to go to a movie. If a goat decides to give birth at two in the morning when you have a 102F fever you still get to go out and play goat midwife. It has to be done and you are the designated doer. Basically your new hobby is working. Maybe Someday There are all kinds of dreams that seem impossible to fulfill once you start living your homestead life. For one thing you may find that you either have the money to do something or the time to do something but rarely do you have both at the same time. Priorities change and you get into a mindset of just doing the next thing. We really want a metal roof so we can get a certain type of solar panel and so we can have a more effective water catchment system. Those things are on our "eventually" list. Believe it or not some people don't like the idea of homesteading and you may not be able to sell your property if you decide it is not for you. Homesteading is hard, painful, sad, miserable, and frustrating - I would do it all again in a heartbeat. For those of use who really want this and are willing to work as long and as hard as it takes to make it happen there just is no other way to live. Know Yourself The point is that you have to know yourself and be honest. If you cringe at the sight of a worm, or like to play computer and video games you might want to stick with programs like Facebook's Farm Town and Farmville. Before you begin your homestead adventure make sure to take your rose colored glasses off and listen carefully to your mate. If they are not one hundred percent on board you may homestead at the sacrifice of your relationship. Whatever you do, think it through and be true to yourself. The rest of your life is worth it. Being miserable and feeling trapped is no fun. Can You Be a No Impact Man? Watch the No Impact Man Trailer