Do you crave a simple country lifestyle? Have you dreamed of starting a homestead or small farm? Perhaps you are currently saving every penny, in hopes of one day owning a little place in the countryside?
If so, I wish you luck! Returning to the land and raising your own food is a very rewarding lifestyle. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
But if I could extend a word of caution to you, it would be this: country living shouldn’t be taken lightly!
It’s easy to over-romanticize life on the farm! Charmingly written articles, blog posts, carefully cropped and edited photos often give the wrong impression.
While living on the land is beautiful, it also has an ugly side. And everywhere you turn, you’ll find both!
THE BEAUTIFUL SIDE OF TRADITIONAL LIVING
It’s true! There is beauty and charm to be discovered!
Watching your mare groan, pant and fight to deliver a dazed colt into this world is awe-inspiring. You’ll find yourself smiling as you listen to the young cock’s attempts to crow, when you watch the young calf learning to kick up his heels!
Hold a soft, defenseless baby creature and you’ll suddenly experience feelings of gentleness. Harvesting vegetables you started from seed is very rewarding, as are the rows of home canned food in the pantry, the farm-raised meat in your freezer.
Yes, should you start a homestead, you’ll discover this life is rich!
But you must also be aware that it can be harsh and unforgiving. Sometimes, its cold, bloody and heart-wrenching.
THE DARK SIDE OF TRADITIONAL LIVING
There’s the sickness that caused half the beef cows to miscarry. The faithful old farm dog that you didn’t see and hit with the tractor. Early morning light that reveals the nighttime work of a predator.
When you start a homestead, there will be disappointments, investments that fail not because of anything you did, but because of the unexpected twists that exist in nature.
On the farm there are no cushions, no glossing over the blunt facts of reality. This is raw, unfettered life we live.
However, I would argue that experiencing the dark side is part of what makes this lifestyle so rich! Too often we take things around us for granted. Only after they are taken away do we begin to realize what we have (or had). Suddenly, we gain a greater appreciation for the life around us.
SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
There’s no need to search for the dark side. It will find you. And while it’s a part of life, no one wants to experience unnecessary loss! None of us desire failure.
In living this lifestyle, I’ve discovered there are 9 principles that successful homesteaders live by. Let’s go over them, shall we?
#1: START SLOWLY
Learn to walk before you run! The land is an organic, living thing. So are your plants and animals. It takes time to familiarize yourself with both. And just when you think you’ve got it mastered, nature shows you something different!
As you start a homestead, remember to move slowly. Find your rhythm with each activity and after you feel confident, add on.
#2: DON’T OVERTAX YOURSELF
Those who have led the traditional lifestyle are smiling to themselves. It happens every year!
Particular seasons are crazy on the farm. It’s part of the package deal! Nature always has and always will throw unexpected twists our way.
You can prepare for this by only taking on what you can manage well. If you are overtaxed when things are functioning normally, reconsider your activities and cut back, if possible.
#3: ASK FOR HELP WHEN NEEDED
The tough times will come and for as long as man has existed, he’s needed and depended on others.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help, particularly from locals who are educated in your area of struggle. These folks are walking pages of information. Plus, they know and understand that helping one another is part of this lifestyle. They’ve been in your shoes and are happy to help!
#4: NEVER STOP LEARNING
This is a key trait of seasoned homesteaders! You are never too old to learn. In fact, the best homesteaders are humble homesteaders. Those who think outside the box, look for better and newer ways to do things, who take advantage of change will likely do well.
#5: TAILOR INFORMATION TO YOUR CURRENT SITUATION
While it’s wonderful to have online resources, remember your climate, land, plants and animals are unique.
Research and read, definitely! But remember you must get to know your own specifics. Always tailor information to your situation and particularly, financial capabilities!
#6: CALCULATE THE COST OF YOUR ACTIVITIES
Be sure to record your homesteading expenses! This includes the set up for gardens or animals, cost of maintenance, feed and any necessary appliances.
Don’t assume that raising food yourself is the cheapest option. By tracking your costs, you may discover that a particular food-raising activity can’t pay off because of your situation (land, feed costs, etc).
You must be aware that raising your own food can become a very expensive lifestyle! Get yourself a farm journal and start recording the dollars and cents! Ensure that your land is working for and not against your bank account.
#7: EXPECT A SLOW RETURN FOR YOUR MONEY
If there’s one thing that rings true when you start a homestead, its this: it takes time to see a return for your money! Farming is about long-term investments and is counter-cultural to our love for instant gratification.
In fact, if you start a small farm with the intention of making money, you’ll likely be disappointed. This lifestyle is about quality living, not dollars and cents!
Setting up a garden takes money. Keeping animals requires fencing, shelter and food. Even preserving food you’ve raised requires equipment!
In the Pioneering Today Podcast (a favorite!) Melissa put out a fascinating episode outlining the true costs of canning. Be sure to check it out: Is Home Canning Really Worth It?
If the financial side of traditional living intrigues you, be sure to check out my pinterest board: Financial Wisdom on the Homestead.
#8: INVEST INTO SOURCES THAT GIVE A RETURN
The highest on my personal list is the garden. In one year, our harvest paid off the fencing, hoses, sprinkler, garden seeds, water and even left us with extra cash!
Be aware that while keeping your own animals for reproduction (poultry or livestock) often appears to be the cheaper option, it may not pay off.
Again, record your expenses! You may discover the cost of keeping them year ’round is equal to or greater than the price of purchasing new animals every year.
While a tractor or other equipment might be handy to have, make sure it will earn it’s keep and give back more than you put into it.
#9: TAKE TIME TO APPRECIATE WHAT YOU’VE ACCOMPLISHED
It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that you are never doing enough. In fact, I’d highly recommend you read this post on the Hidden Truth of Homesteading: More Isn’t Always Better and complete the exercise given.
In every season, take time to step back and enjoy what you’ve accomplished. This lifestyle is full of hard work that isn’t often recognized in dollars and cents.
IS IT A GOOD FIT FOR YOU?
This life isn’t for the irresponsible or faint of heart. In order to make this lifestyle pay off, you must manage your money, time and efforts well.
Take time to consider how you are wired! Do you thrive on country life, caring for animals and gardens?
If you have a family, also consider what is important to them. It takes sacrifice, for everyone! And if everyone is on board, it’s good. So good!