Choosing to live our lives as homesteaders forced us to learn some new skills. It was one thing to read how to care for chickens, but until you actually are holding that little life in your hands, none of it is REAL to you. Until it comes time to butcher and process an animal, you just don’t realize what all goes into the process. Building a chicken tractor? Oh if you have no idea what you are doing, it will absolutely turn into a disaster if you don’t learn from someone else who has already been there and done that (ahem!).
But, homesteadin’ has a way of teaching us some lessons that we never thought about. And they are good lessons. Deep, down into our hearts, personal lessons, that will carry us through this journey and make us the best homesteaders we could be.
God uses everything friends, even chicken manure, compost piles, fencing, and chicken coops for His glory.
The Hard Lessons Homesteading Teaches You
I struggle with patience, always have. But homesteading takes this lesson to an entirely different level. There is no hurrying any process on the homestead and if you try, things typically turn into a disaster and often tragedy strikes. You can’t rush to put up fencing that will be secure, and you can’t rush to put together a safe, predator-proof chicken coop (ask me how I know). You have to wait for your first egg from your chickens and your first tomato from the garden. You will have to wait until there are more finances and resources available to bring larger livestock to your farm. Because if you don’t, then you may end up with no fencing, shelter, or a way to feed them.
And, even if all shelter, fencing, feed, and other resources are in place, chickens will fly out of their runs, or they won’t go back in their coops at night. Turkeys will find their way onto the tallest outbuilding you own and you will spend an entire afternoon trying to capture the buggers and put them safely back with the flock. They will squawk and squeal and make all your neighbors within 100 miles think you are getting ready to process them. Waterers will freeze, gardens will not always grow, jars will break, and you will absolutely burn dinner at least five times. Oh and just when you think you’ve mastered bread making, you will lose count of how many cups of flour you just put in and your bread will come out of the oven hard as a rock.
To be realistic
Sadly, we can’t have it all, even if we wanted to. Sure, some of us may be able to raise every farm animal plus some, but many more of us can not. We have to be sure that we are going to have enough financial resources to care for our animal’s medical needs, as well as being able to feed them and provide clean and safe shelter and fencing. It is not realistic to bring home free or cheap animals if we are unable to provide the medical care they need in the event of an emergency. I’ve seen far too many people bring home animals just because they were free or cheap, only to find out they had a sickness that spread to other animals on their homestead. They didn’t have the financial means to pay a vet to come care for their animals, nor did they have the skill level to provide the care themselves. It truly is a tragedy when this happens.
Many of us do not have the space to grow all of our family’s veggies and fruits. However, getting creative with space we do have can provide at least some and truly, some is so much better than none. When we were just starting out back in Pennsylvania, we had a tiny garden that we were only able to grow 5 tomato plants, 5 green bean plants, and 4 pepper plants. It didn’t provide all our fruits and veggies, but it was a start. We could have grown much more had we utilized container, and/or vertical gardening and also utilized raised beds. Be realistic about maximizing the space you do have, and get creative! You’ll find that you can grow a lot more than you thought.
Be honest with yourself about what you can grow or what animals you can comfortably fit on your land and in your budget. My list is a mile long of everything I want to grow and raise, but realistically, not everything from that list is going to make on to our 3 1/2 acre homestead. Something is going to have to go because I want my animals to be happy and healthy. Our goal is to provide healthy food for our family. Animals who spend much of their time eating grain is not a better option for my family nor is having a ton of animals crammed into a small space, even if I can do it, it doesn’t mean I should do it.
Even though I grew up with self-sufficient grand-parents and parents, I didn’t experience the hands-on, back-breaking, blood, sweat and tears work of homesteading. By the time I was a pre-teen my grandma had already sold her home and was living with my Uncle. The days of picking fruits and veggies, tilling the garden, planting, and preserving were over. And by the time I was even born, my grandparents and parents days of raising and processing their own meat was a distant memory for them.
Now that I have my own homestead and I am going back to my roots, I have compassion for other homesteaders and farmers that I did not have before. I never understood that no matter what the weather is like, or what is going on in their personal lives, nothing stops the functioning of a homestead or farm. Although we are not even close to being considered a full-fledged homestead, what we do have going on here has taught me to have an abundance of respect and compassion for what others with larger homesteads and farms do for their families, their animals, and for others.
Further, we learn to have compassion for animals, even animals that will eventually end up on our dinner plates. Our culture is very, very far removed from our food. In 2019, very few of us in comparison to the world truly understand what it means to raise an animal that will one day provide nourishment for ourselves and our family members. For many, many years my family embraced this convience and bought our meat from the grocery store. This meat came from an animal that someone else raised and cared for. Someone else saw that animal grow up and someone else processed that animal. Not being part of the actual life cycle, not experiencing the ups and downs, the trials, the experience of the animal’s life and death, leaves us unattached and distant. It is easy to ignore the reality that what we are eating was once a living creature when we simply buy it prepackaged from the grocery store.
To be humble
Nothing in this world will cut you down to size like trying to live life on a homestead. When we moved here to Missouri, we were know it all’s and quite ignorant to the lifestyle here. We didn’t have the predators back in Pennsylvania that we have here, and I foolishly thought we could live on 10 acres in the country without ever coming in close proximity of a copperhead. Let me just tell you, in the 15 months we’ve been in Missouri, we have had no less than 4 encounters with copperheads.
I for sure thought that my flock could never be cut in half by a coon and that bobcats were not going to find their way onto my porch. I thought for sure that our homestead would never lose 4 of the 8 baby chicks we brought home for no other reason besides my own carelessness to put them outside too soon.
Homesteading will absolutely teach us to learn from our own and other people’s mistakes. It will teach us to tap into the homesteading community and learn from others who have been there and done that and know a lot more than we do. It will teach us that we might not know as much as we thought we did, and that maybe we need to take some time to learn more before you bring any more animals home, or plant any more seeds, or can any more food (no matter what your neighbor says).
Authenticity – Be you
Eventually, homesteading teaches us exactly who we are as not just homesteaders, but as a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, and as a person in general. Eventually, we find out that we actually can do all we need to do to protect our animals from predators. We find out that we might not be able to cull a chicken like we thought. We find that we are actually pretty darn good at this gardening thing and people really do like our cooking!
We might find out that we are stubborn and don’t want to change our minds about an idea we had. Some of us may realize we need to work on our team-work skills. We might find out that our hearts are really big and when we find out a family in need is hungry, we share our home-raised food with them. Some of us may find out that we enjoy having our kids help us and others may realize that having their kids help them with every project just isn’t right for them.
At the end of the day, homesteading will force us to look inside at who we really are. It’ll teach us to embrace our strengths and develop skills that will strengthen our weaknesses. It’ll show us that if we really want to do this thing, then there may be some things we are going to need to work on changing about ourselves.
Being flexible for me really does go along with patience. I struggle. When I have an idea or a vision for something here on the homestead, that is exactly how I want it to happen. I don’t want to have to change my mind and divert from the plan. But listen, nothing in homesteading is ever going to go 100% perfectly smooth and easy. Sometimes where we wanted to put the chickens, is not going to be the ideal place because it floods when it rains. Sometimes that mobile chicken tractor is not going to go together as easily as we thought, and we end up having to build them a coop instead. Sometimes the driveway can’t be moved, and we really do have to put in two garden spaces. And yes, sometimes, our spouse’s idea is much more realistic and affordable than our’s.
To be a homesteader on any scale, we have to learn to roll with it. We have to learn to let go of some things for the best interest of our families and our homesteads.
To have hope
From the very second, you decide that you are going to start seeds for a garden or raise animals for meat and dairy, new hope springs up within you. We hope our seeds will germinate and grow. We hope our chickens will lay eggs. We hope our meaties will all be healthy and make it to processing. We hope for the warm, sunny days of planting season and we hope for an abundant harvest. We hope for rain and we hope for healthy goats, cows, pigs, rabbits. Etc. We hope.
To have faith
I know that my family could never homestead without our faith in God. It is Him that we ultimately place our hope in, that He will — as my friend Julie from The Farm Wife says, — “Spread His wings of protection over our farm.” We have faith that He will provide all we need here, in His timing. That He will bless what we are doing and that He will not allow us to go forward with something He knows is not good for us. We have faith that whether our planned garden and the animals we plan to raise do not turn out as we had expected, that He will provide another way.