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As I was milking our Jersey, Spark, the other evening, I was thinking about how this was what I dreamed about for years. Living off the land, growing our food and getting milk from our own cow. Life is good! And then Spark swatted me in the face with her tail.
Everyone glosses over the realities of homesteading/farming. They show the good, happy parts of farm life and skip over the not so great stuff that nobody really wants to hear about. We’re shown the end result, the glass of milk or a clean basket of eggs, and all the stuff that happens beforehand isn’t mentioned. But isn’t the end result, the glass of milk and fresh eggs, the point? Yes, it is and it’s certainly the reward for a job well done. However, there is a romanticized view of homesteading these days. The white picket fence, well behaved animals, a perfectly weeded garden, cooking from scratch and still have time to sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade is what’s often portrayed on the internet. Getting swatted in the face by a cow’s tail or cleaning out the chicken coop that will really start to stink to high heaven if you don’t clean it, isn’t what you read about. While I love this life, there are some realities that are part of it; sweat, dirt, bugs and poop. Lots of poop.
What goes in, must come out
When you own animals, you will deal with poop. Chickens will poop in the nesting boxes, goats will poop on the milk stand. It’s up to you to keep the animal bedding and pens clean. Whether it’s by pitchfork or tractor, shoveling poop will be on your to do list. It isn’t glamorous or even fun to clean out the chicken coop or goat barn, but it is a necessary chore. The upside to that, composted manure does wonders in the garden!
Your animals will not always behave.
Farm animals love routine, and sticking with that routine will keep life simple and easy when dealing with your animals. That is, until your milk cow decides that they don’t want to go into the milk barn today or the entire flock of sheep decide to go exploring out of their fencing. Animals can be stubborn and will test to see who is in control.
It doesn’t matter how good your fence is, those animals will figure out how to get out at one point or another. Sometimes they don’t even mean to get out, they just do! We use electric fencing for all of our animals, which works well 99% of the time. But things do happen, a deer running through the fence, a post that falling over due to rain, or a short in the fence and suddenly the animals are where you don’t want them to be. We move most of our animals daily, so they’re used to having us around and are very motivated by treats. All I need is a bucket and the sheep will follow me to the next county. Animals that are comfortable around us definitely helps to get them back in where they belong.
Not all animals are nice either. You can be as kind as can be to your animals, most will be nice and some will get a crazy idea and decide not to be. We have had everything from a mean rooster to a ram that you can never ever turn your back on. Thankfully no mean pigs or bulls, yet. All of our animals are well cared for and treated well. Some just have a mean streak.
The work is never done
There is always something to do on a farm. The to do list is longer than the day is long. We balance our time between building our house, putting up fence, caring for animals, gardening and caring for the orchard. Throw in homeschooling the kids and you have a very busy schedule. Our days are full and we collapse into bed at night to get up and do it all over again the next day. Down time is rare around here, though we do try to schedule in some relaxation and fun every once in a while. There’s no need to get burned out. The reality is that the simple life is a busy one!
Another thing about work on the farm, there’s no such thing as fair weather farming. It all needs to be done regardless of the weather, rain or shine. You will get soaked with sweat in the summer putting up new fence, moving the sheep & cattle or tending the garden. It will be cold in the winter and muddy in the spring. It’s all part of the experience!
Vacation or weekend getaways??
It isn’t easy to slip away for a weekend when you have animals relying on you. If you have family close by or a hired hand to watch over your farm so you can have a get away, that’s great! Not everyone is so lucky. The more animals, gardens, orchards, etc that you have, the harder it will be to leave. At present, we stick with day trips. It’s a great way to leave the farm for a few hours to and still be back in time for chores and milking in the evening.
You will encounter all sorts of creepy crawlies. Bugs, spiders, snakes, you’ll see them all! Animals on the farm attract flies. Keeping the animals moving from pasture to pasture and keeping their bedding clean helps a LOT. But there still will be flies. Ticks and chiggers will wait for you as you work out in the pastures or garden . Basically, if you’re outside, which you will be, those little buggers will find you. We take precautions and do nightly tick checks for everyone in the family. It soon becomes routine, it’s just a part of life in the country.
But it isn’t all bad.
We love our lifestyle and the benefits far outweigh any negatives that come with this life. Here are some of the benefits that come with homesteading:
Knowing exactly where your food comes from
There’s great peace of mind knowing exactly how your vegetables are grown and how your meat is raised. Nothing is better than fresh from the garden produce. All the produce that you can buy in the supermarkets are lackluster in comparison. Eggs, milk and meat are no exception. Yes, it’s hard to butcher an animal that you have cared for. Giving your animals a great life and understanding exactly where your meat is coming from is essential. It’s not just a slab of meat at the supermarket that you forget how it got there in the first place. There is a life that is taken to feed your family. If you eat meat, there always is. But when you raise your own food, you will have the freshest, best tasting food anyone could have. You will eat like a king.
A peaceful life
We remember the daily commute and the rat race. Being away from the stress of the city is priceless. The daily commute down to the barn is so much more relaxing. We don’t have TV, we do have internet, but it isn’t very fast. Our cell phone service is very patchy. None of that bothers us much. Our focus here is what is going on in our neck of the woods, not what’s the latest big news story. Don’t worry, we do keep up on the news, we aren’t completely out of the loop. This all helps us lead a peaceful, low stress life.
It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding
There is a lot of manual labor, but it’s incredibly rewarding to build a house and homestead from scratch with your own blood, sweat and tears. We put our heart into everything that we do, from building our straw bale house, to growing produce in the garden. Building from scratch is a slow process, but we’re making everything exactly how we want it.
Close to nature
We are outside most of our days, which is how we like it. What better office can you have than the great outdoors? We never tire of seeing the wildlife as we go about our day. Finding a fawn hidden in the grass, a turtle by the creek or the wild turkeys in the pasture strutting their stuff always makes us smile. Of course we also see or hear the less than desirable critters, coyotes howling at night, opossums trying to steal chicken feed, or armadillos trying to break into the garden. We deal with them as we need to, our dogs help us discourage these unwanted visitors from showing up.
We love to forage as we move the animals. We have found morel mushrooms, black raspberries, blackberries, may pops, passion fruit, countless wild flowers and many other plants and trees of interest all while out in the pastures working the cattle and sheep. Every season we find something different in each of the pastures, you never know what the prize will be. Our kids have learned a lot about nature in the process, which I love.
New life on the farm
Watching a calf being born on your farm is simply amazing. The antics of baby animals are heart warming. Watching moms and babies interact never gets old. My girls love to handle the babies that are born on the farm, which helps to tame them. They’ve also learned a lot about the ‘birds and the bees’. There is a lot to watch and observe on the farm!
Planting the garden and seeing the seedlings sprout never gets old either. Seeing those seedlings grow is nearly as satisfying as picking the abundance later in the year. There’s a reason why gardeners look forward to getting seed catalogs in January and eagerly anticipate planting the garden in the spring. The circle of life is a miraculous thing to witness, with either plant or animal.