My dear, let us start this off at the beginning- welcome! Oh man, we are so happy to have new people around who share this passion of ours. And let me tell you a quick secret- you’re already a homesteader. Even if you haven’t grown or raised a thing. See, there are some folks that will tell you that no matter what you do, you will never be a homesteader unless you follow their strict plan. Ignore those people. They may have some insight or advice later on about something, but for now, you ignore them. If you have made the choice to know what is in your food, to advocate for better health and food for you and your family, and you are willing to try new things to get yourself there, honey, you’re a homesteader. Put a tomato plant on your balcony this spring and make it official. Oh, and those curmudgeons who say you can’t be a vegetarian and a homesteader? Ignore them too. They lack imagination.
Now, the nitty gritty. There are going to be some things that take you by surprise no matter what. I’m not here to tell you what to do on your homestead, but I would like to throw out some things that maybe you haven’t thought of yet. And maybe you have, I’m just trying to wrap up some wisdom in a short blog that you might find useful.
First of all, if you want to keep chickens, be prepared for something somewhere to die. No, you do not have to eat your chickens. My egg hens are the most spoiled birds ever to walk this earth and we are not eating them. We are also not in the business of butchering one if she slows her egg production down. Nah, she gets to live it up in retirement. But we have had to kill a rooster or two. I remember very clearly the first rooster we killed on this property. We had three at the time, all just reaching sexual maturity. And they tussled some with each other, but boy did they ever give the hens a hard time. One day in particular I look out to see our gorgeous Cornish rooster in hot pursuit of a hen. She won’t want me telling this story, but her name is Kaylee, and she is one of my faves. I’m on my way out anyway, so I just keep a close eye on them. Well, this particular chase had nothing to do with sex. He chased her until he cornered her up against fencing and proceeded to peck, spur, bite and kick her repeatedly. After you have animals for a little while, you kind of learn their behavior, even subtle stuff. So I already knew this had nothing to do with being an overzealous boyfriend and everything to do with trying to kill her. I rushed over and through flapping wings and squawking birds, I picked her up. I was so flustered at the time, I didn’t know what to do so I came straight in the house. Her face was bruised and she was visibly freaked the heck out. We sat in the house on the futon while my husband dispatched the rooster. When he went out, this rooster was beating the crap out of one of the other hens. Hell to the no, bird sir, we don’t hurt the girls. Not on this farm. Could we have sold him? He was pure bred, probably so. But if he killed a fancy show hen of someone else’s, oh boy would I have felt horrible. We knew he had this behavior problem, so passing it off to someone else would have been irresponsible. Farm animal sanctuary? Maybe, but the same problem would inevitably arise. The rule here with the roosters is if they attack us, whatever, that’s their nature, but don’t you dare hurt the girls.
Same goes for wildlife. We are very lenient on wildlife chilling at our place. We have a red-tailed hawk that has his home in a large tree pretty near the chicken coop. He doesn’t bother us, we don’t bother him. No sense in trying to run him off, he was here first. We have also had a fox show up and check out the chicken coop. We went out and told him, no Foxy-Loxy, this isn’t the KFC drive thru, keep on truckin. We didn’t have to chase him, shoot at him, whatever else someone else may have done. Us walking outside and talking was all it took. But I have my limit on stuff I will put up with. We went to close up the coop one night and noticed not a single bird was in it. Except the dead one being gnawed on by a possum. That possum went to the big farm in the sky. It took us days of having to put the girls on their roosts at night before they would even go back in there. I don’t blame them. And before you feel too sorry for that possum, he had been hanging around for a while not showing any sign he was an asshole. Then one day he just waltzed right in and killed one of my girls. She was a golden laced Wyandotte named Webb because her feet were webbed at birth. She was a good layer and liked hanging out with her humans. So I kind of took it personally.
I guess the point is, if you have livestock of any kind, there will be times when you may have to go to lengths you’re not currently good with. I get that. Hell, we have an adolescent possum that lives near the chicken coop. We have been discouraging him from hanging around because we don’t want to kill him. But if he makes the decision to kill my chickens, it is my first responsibility to keep my feather babies safe. Relocating is a bit dicey; possums carry a disease that is incredibly harmful and often painfully fatal to horses. It’s all a balancing act.
Another thing to keep in mind is, starting out isn’t cheap. We are in year three of having a garden and we are finally seeing financial returns on that endeavor. That hasn’t always been the case. And I wouldn’t say that the garden broke even this year either. Maybe. But we put up some expensive fencing to keep the chickens from eating our tomatoes and the wild rabbits from eating…. well, everything. Perspective is a good thing to keep in mind here. We had gallons upon gallons of tomatoes this year. Organic, fresh tomatoes. And we made tomato sauce, enchilada sauce, hot sauces. And ate them straight out of the garden. The price of those same products at the store would have been pretty significant. It evens out. Eventually. But a lot of expenses are going to be start up costs. Buildings, equipment, stuff like that is a one time expense usually. The best advice? Take it slow. I know the feeling that you have to put it all in now, and be a level 84 smith/gardener combo straight out of the gate is strong, but resist! That little voice that says do everything right now is the voice that leads so many homesteaders into trouble and off the farm. More people try this and quit than try this and make a go of it. And repeat this to yourself every day- just because I can’t do (insert homestead thing here) today doesn’t mean I have failed. I have more to learn. Don’t quit. This is hard. This life is hard. Whoever coined the term the Simple Life doesn’t live it. But don’t give up on it. If it is your dream to homestead and raise your family on food you grew, keep at it. To borrow from Tom Hanks, “the hard is what makes it great. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it.”
So I said this was a short blog. I guess I lied. It happens. Whenever I get to talking about this, man can I ramble. But this is a scratch on the surface of what we do. So let me say this: I don’t know everything, far from it. But at some point I have been where you are, and I am happy to discuss our journey if it helps you.
Grow something and be happy. Because no matter where or how you homestead, happy is all that matters.