So often, this lifestyle is romanticized, especially here in the U.S. When you start with a romantic view of farm life, the reality can be very disappointing. Take a breath and consider the truth about farmsteading or homesteading life, whichever you prefer. We share our best tips for success to help you on your journey.
The Truth About Homesteading Life
The realities and joys of homesteading are often a bittersweet mix. If you are new to the lifestyle, then you may not have experienced much of this.
If you have been a sustenance farmer, like us, or a homesteader on any level, for any length of time, then you are all too familiar with this truth. So often people begin the self-sufficient lifestyle and quickly become overwhelmed by what seems to them to be contradictions.
They don’t know what to do with their ideas of living off the land idea and the harmony of this lifestyle when confronted with the reality of having to put down an animal or when it’s butchering time.
By nature, I am a romantic person, as my husband often tells me, but having been born and raised as a farm girl I knew the realities of this lifestyle.
When most people think of farmsteading or homesteading life, they envision rolling green pastures with cattle and sheep grazing; ideal chicken coops and chicken yards; chickens roaming free; beautiful clean barns; the nice white farmhouse with the picket fence and at least two dogs in the yard.
While some people do manage to obtain this ideal, most of us do not. Not that all farmers want this version of the lifestyle, but you get the idea.
What you don’t see is the years of work that go into building up a farm. The years of sacrifice, planning, and countless hours of hard work, tears, sweat, and yes, even blood.
A Reality Check
If you’re like me, the reality of farm life is this: you wake up before dawn, turn the coffee pot on, get dressed and ready to go out to do chores.
- It’s raining? It’s snowing? It’s 20° below zero? *Deep Sigh* It doesn’t matter, the chores must be done.
- You have a cold, the flu, a stomach virus? Still, the chores must be done.
- If you have a sick animal, oftentimes it has to be tended to all night. Birthing season? Sleep becomes a rare commodity.
- Taking a vacation requires a great deal of planning to make certain the livestock and homestead are cared for and safe in your absence. No more spur-of-the-moment trips.
The one thing you can count on every day on a homestead is the unexpected. A fence gets broken; a piece of equipment goes down; a skunk shows up at the henhouse; the levee breaks on the pond; the late-night awakenings because you have to deal with predators. On and on the list could go.
So why would anyone want this lifestyle?
Discouraged? Don’t be. While the realities of farm life are often difficult, challenging, and even exhausting, they are also just as much a part of the joy, surprise, and blessings. The realities and the joys of it: they go hand in hand.
The hardest days, for me, are butchering days. Even though it’s been a way of life since I was born, I’ve never gotten used to those days, and I hope I never do.
But the reality is that something dies for you to put food on the table. It’s no different even if you buy your meat at the store. For us being a part of the life and death of the animals we eat is important.
Planting seeds, and watching them break through the ground and do exactly what God designed them to do thousands of years ago is exhilarating.
Watching the hens set eggs for 21 days and then seeing her excitement as they begin to hatch. Then sitting and watching all those fluffy little chicks move around the yard with her and learn how to be chickens.
The excitement, fear, and anticipation that comes when your goat or cow is giving birth and she wants you right there with her. So you are there to comfort her and help her as she gives birth to the next generation of your farm animals. Only a farmer can understand this.
For us, the knowledge of where the food that is on the table comes from, how it was grown, how it was fed, and how it was handled and processed, cannot have a monetary value. They are the essence of a sustenance farming/homesteading lifestyle.
There are also beautiful sunsets; long walks around the property checking fences; a nice cup of coffee or a glass of wine on the back porch looking out over the fields or the woods; watching the wildlife move around the property, all these bring overwhelming feelings of satisfaction, well-being, and gratitude to fill my heart.
Tips to Succeed in Homesteading Life
There are a few tips that I believe will help you on your way, or maybe even encourage you if you are already on the journey:
- 1) Deal With and Face the Realities of This Lifestyle
Know that there are good days and bad days just as in any other walk of life. There will be good decisions and bad decisions, you just face them and deal with the choice you make.
We’re careful to let beginning homesteaders know achieving their dream will mean plenty of planning, scads of sacrifices, fists full of failures, and tons of trying. You’ll have nervous nights, slews of sweat, tons of tears, bounties of blisters, and yes, bloody bandages.
Don’t despair! There are ten good things about homesteading life for every one challenge.
The top benefits that spring to my mind are the:
- satisfaction of being self-sustaining
- knowledge of where your food comes from and what is
- the reward for hard work and a job well done
- knowing how your food was raised
- knowing how your food was treated and processed
- learning new skills
- solitude and privacy (if you have the land for it)
- the excitement of new life being born
I could just keep going, but I’m sure you get the picture.
- 2) Be Realistic When Establishing Goals and Priorities
Set your short-term goals first, then look beyond that into your heart’s desires and map out a road that will get you there. Decide what’s most important and work toward that.
Dream big without fear, all you have to do is take one step at a time. When my kids were little (eons ago), we had a saying, “By the yard it’s hard, but by the inch, it’s a cinch!”
In life, overcoming the fear of something is the hardest step. Don’t wait to learn all you think you have to know or until you get things perfect to begin.
Doing this will only delay dreams, often indefinitely. Just take the first step no matter how small it may seem to you.
Remember, everyone must start somewhere. Just begin at the beginning…right where you are!
Start with something small, like chickens for instance, and build from there.
Think about what you like to eat and begin growing that. If you don’t have gardening experience, you may want to begin with small raised beds or container gardening.
Find a family member, friend, or even a local farmer to mentor you. I would say most farmers or homesteaders are happy to pass on their knowledge to those who want to learn. Besides, who would pass up an extra set of willing hands?
- 3) Expect the Unexpected
I start every day with a list of things that I would like to accomplish that day and every day something gets added unexpectedly, without fail. You decide what’s most important and you go from there.
Over our second cup of morning coffee, my husband and I discuss what each of us has “planned” to accomplish that day. A day has never passed where something didn’t happen to change our priorities. You must be flexible in life, but flexibility is key to successful homesteading. Learning to adjust your priorities on the fly, quickly becomes old hat!
- 4) Don’t Be Afraid of Failure
Even though I was born and raised on a farm, I don’t know it all. We still learn, try new things, and fail.
The enemy is not failure, the enemy is fear. Faith cannot live where fear abides. They are opposite and contrary to one another. We have to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Failure is the opportunity to stretch and secure a skill, earn experience, and gain growth. Believe it or not, things are not in our control. Maybe you just simply didn’t know, or you took a shortcut that didn’t work or tried something new.
Things will go wrong even with tried and true ways. Learn from the failure and move on.
- 5) Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
When I was a little girl, I asked a lot of questions. Someone in my family was trying to discourage me from this and my grandfather made me feel better. He said, “Rhonda Lynn, (he always used my first and middle name) the only stupid question is a question that you already know the answer to.”
He was right, of course. He always was – as far as I’m concerned. So, you shouldn’t be concerned about what anyone thinks of you. If in doubt, find out. Ask those questions, I know I sure do. Just ask my husband!
Know that no homesteader or farmer ever gets to the place where they know it all, never.
- 6) Don’t Worry About What Other People Expect or Think
You and your family know the reasons you’re on the homestead journey. You know the things you want to accomplish and what really matters to you.
While seeking the advice of others is important, you cannot let their expectations and the things they do or say cause you to feel inadequate, stressed, or like your way isn’t worthwhile.
We live by a saying of my Papa, “There’s as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there’s farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ‘em, even it’s just to see what not to do.”
- 7) You Have to Have a Sense of Humor
Granny always said, “Rhonda, it’s better to laugh than cry.” From the time I was a child, she would say this to me in various difficult situations.
The older I get, the more I realize she is so right! Getting frustrated or upset in any given situation can cause things to spiral out of control.
Frustration skews our view and dulls our senses. Learning to laugh at yourself, at your mistakes, and with those who are laughing at you is an important life lesson.
- 8) Refresh and Refocus
It’s important to give yourself a break when you become overwhelmed. Just taking a short 10-minute walk is proven to reset your mind, emotions, and gut.
You may take a walk around the block, down the road, around your property, anywhere you feel safe and can enjoy some fresh air and nature’s beauty. Use this time to refresh yourself on the intent of your lifestyle choice and aspirations.
Taking deep focused breaths while walking allows the body to exhale the poisonous gases that build up in our lungs when we are stressed. This happens because we begin shallow breathing and don’t clear our lungs when we experience stress. This in turn causes more stress…see the catastrophic cycle?
Deep breathing also increases blood flow to the brain, heart, and other vital organs allowing them to relax and re-energize. Try it.
Take a deep breath in, really expand that chest cavity, and fill up that tummy. Hold to the count of 6 and exhale fully, pulling that tummy in tight. Now hold out to the count of 6. Repeat those 9 more times. I promise you’ll feel better!
This lifestyle is so wonderful, so energizing, and yes, complex and oftentimes exhausting; but worth it? Oh most definitely!
Over the years, we’ve found balance and outlook are critical to success in life. We often counsel those who are beginning their homesteading journey. Many people are unbalanced in their ideas and expectations of this lifestyle.
We begin with “all things in moderation”, teaching the importance of recognizing that your journey is unlike anyone else’s. While there are some root things common to homesteading, you decide what your goals are and how you will achieve them. Your decisions determine the steps you and your family take.
I’m sure you know the old saying, “Experience is the best teacher.” Well, it’s true. No matter how much book knowledge we acquire, we all learn by doing. I agree we should read and make ourselves familiar with the task at hand, but getting out there and just doing it, even failing at it, is the only way to conquer the thing.
Be sure you give yourself and your family a large learning curve. Above all else, enjoy the journey! Your enthralling, fantastic, gripping, humorous, inspiring journey!
I hope you found some encouragement and some freedom, that you are able to take a deep breath and just let things go because you spent time reading this article.
Our desire is to be a source of information, help, and encouragement for you. We may not always know the answer, but together we can find someone who does.
As always, we’re here to help.