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Life is lived in seasons. In this present season, I sometimes question how to homestead alone and not die in the process.
Right now, I’m wedged between seasons….we’re at the tail end of raising a large brood of children, 9 to be exact. We have two at home, 8th grade and 10th grade, both of whom are excellent student/athletes. Some of the other kids are grown and out of the house, some are still in college, etc. Some days I feel like something close to an empty-nester, but then again, most of time I’m so not. I’m very involved in the children’s lives and I’m glad to be. I want to finish this season well.
Yet, just over the horizon, I see the next season coming. The season where it will just be my husband and I, all alone on this 10 acre farm.
Just a few short years ago, we had a small army to help out around here. Having a strong work ethic has always been important to us as parents, and to make sure our children understand what a “hard days work” looks like. Over the years, they have learned much about how to raise and preserve food and animals. Some of them enjoyed the process more than others, and that’s ok. It’s the knowledge I wanted them to leave home with, what they do with it is up to them.
Nonetheless, I am managing the farm most days by myself, while my husband runs another business. My man is good enough to help me on weekends here and there, and for special projects, but to be honest, this homesteading thing really isn’t his deal. He loves each and every animal we have, but at the end of the day, he would be content to go the grocery for food. Just being honest, I’m sure there are some of you who have the same situation. It’s alright, I came into this with that understanding. This homestead is my baby.
That said, I am pretty much on my own these days. Again, my husband helps on weekends when he can, but it’s primarily on me.
Now, let me clarify. We do not make our living on this farm. This farm was set up for several reasons: to gain agricultural tax status by raising animals, to raise our children on a farm and to raise our own food. The farm lowers our need for outside purchases and every year we become more self-sustaining. We hope to enter retirement (no time soon) with minimal utility bills and abundant food sources all around us, through a great deal of planning and permaculture.
There are times when I feel as though I just don’t have the endless energy that I once had, even just 5 years ago. At 55, I have to pace myself to get everything I want to get done in a day. Yet, in the spring and summer, which is “high gear” time on a homestead, there are many things that I just can’t get to by myself. Gardens get overgrown quickly, stalls aren’t as clean as I would like and soon, I feel overwhelmed and defeated. Not a good way to live. This was supposed to be fun.
After a couple years of thinking about this, I plan to make some changes this year. No, I’m not selling the farm to go live on the beach in a condo, like lots of our friends! I’m going to work smarter, not harder.
When we moved here, most of the property was raw land. There was a house and a small pole barn. We added a horse barn, goat barn, three chicken coops, 5 acres of pasture fencing and ran electric and water to all of it. No small feat, and it took us a number of years to do all of that. We also added 2 orchards, 2 large gardens, grape arbor, mushroom patch and numerous other native trees and plants.
The last couple of years, I’ve zeroed in closer to the house with planting. Most of the fruit trees are close to the house, so that we won’t have to walk as far when we’re older. The “kitchen garden” is close to the house as well, near by the clothesline. This is all pretty manageable.
Where I work myself silly is cleaning up after animals. Animals poop. I’ll bet yours do as well. Since that can’t be helped, it’s up to me to shore up the places where the animals poop.
This is mostly a winter problem, but cleaning out that many buildings is hard on anyone’s body when you’re doing it all by yourself. This year, I am considering bringing all the chickens into the main horse barn, by building roosts and nesting boxes right above the horse stalls, so that all of their dropping will fall right on top of the equine droppings. One stop cleaning! I’ll save the coops for breeding, as I raise Black Copper Marans, and for raising meat birds, both of which are seasonal.
My father told me that when he was on growing up on a farm, all of the animals lived in one barn…period. There were no special coops for chickens or separate barns for goats, etc. There was ONE single barn and all the animals lived there. Makes sense.
Reconsider the Number of Animals You Own and Manage
This was a game changer last year for me. I love chickens, like I realllllly love my chickens. When you love chickens, you tend to buy more chickens than you need. So, I made a business out of it, selling my organic, free-range eggs for $4 a dozen. I got to the point that I was delivering over 60 dozen eggs a month. That’s insane.
Feeding that many chickens, about 60, isn’t cheap when the cold weather arrives. My girls are all free-range and so they eat primarily nuts, berries and insects (plus some feed), but in the winter when there’s nothing to forage, feed can cost you an arm and a leg!! AND they don’t lay much during these months!
Earning $4 per dozen doesn’t make any profit whatsoever, it just pays for the feed a little gas and labor, as most of my customers wanted their eggs washed. I really loved serving my customers with fresh, gorgeous eggs, but at the end of the day, I was just running around in circles. It would make more sense to sell/cull most of my birds and get down to a very reasonable number, like 15, and just feed us. It may seem somewhat selfish, but at the same time, I have to take care of us…and me.
When egg prices dropped last summer, I was so glad I wasn’t selling eggs anymore, trying to substantiate my price. I don’t care what Walmart sells eggs for, that’s not what it costs ME. It’s completely “apples and oranges” and they can’t be compared.
The same is true with my honey bees. Beekeeping isn’t easy and it isn’t cheap. Once again, honey prices (or so-called honey) dropped last year. I just won’t give my honey away, and reduced my bee hives by half so that I could manage them and still enjoy the process. The honey is mostly for us and a few friends.
The two big gardens are being re-structured this summer. I don’t want to give up that gorgeous top soil and just stop planting, I’ll worked too hard to amend it over the years. However, I don’t need to grow as much food as I have been.
When you’re growing enough food for yourself, your neighbors, the senior complex and then giving still more to the food bank, you are growing too much food!
I’m going to reduce my food production significantly this year and try my hand at growing some landscaping plants. If I don’t like that, I might fill that area in with wild flowers. Either way, I can’t process and/or deal with that much food anymore, and it’s not even realistic anymore.
You might need to move and downsize your property holdings. I can’t imagine moving at this point in my life, everything about this property is right where I want it to be at this time. But for others, you might do well to relocate and continue the homestead dream.
Buy and maintain the right equipment
The right equipment is so important, you can’t do everything by hand, especially as a middle-aged woman. We own a used John Deere front-loader and it’s does everything I need it to do. Remember, the more equipment you own, the more it owns you! There’s maintenance on everything you own, so buy good quality and take care of it!
Invest in good quality tools that are easy on your joints and back, including a 2-tire wheelbarrow and a large easy to pull wagon. These tools will go a long way to keep your pain down.
Realign your goals
My goals today are different than they were 10 years ago, but honing in on exactly what my goals are this year is taking me some time to think about. This is why winter is so important to me, I need the time to think and pray after the holidays are all over, and ask myself some serious questions. What am I trying to accomplish this year? What things are becoming unenjoyable to me now? How can I lessen the stress on my body while still achieving my homestead goals?
I would love to hear about your experiences with changing seasons and goal-setting!