We’ve “officially” been homesteading for about a year now, and like all homesteaders I have learned my share of lessons. We’ve seen good days, bad days, and REALLY bad days. But every day teaches us a little bit more. Like how to properly brood the chicks. How to build fences. How to not build fences that piglets can sneak out of. Overall, there are some bigger themes to note when learning what to do and what not to do in that first important year.
1. START SMALL. This seems like a no-brainer, right? I thought so, too, but it is too easy to get caught up in all the fun projects you see on Facebook and attempt aaalllll the activities on your “Homesteading” board on Pinterest. And then life happens. The kids get sick. Or you get sick. Or you need surgery. The weather doesn’t want to cooperate, or something around the house breaks down thus converting your homesteading-allocated funds to save-the-house fund and leaving your half-finished projects in the lurch. Take my first garden for example. I had such high hopes for it. I spent literally hundreds of dollars on seeds. I FaceTimed with my sister for probably close to twenty hours as we painstakingly planned out every aspect of the garden. I was definitely at the “go big or go home” point in my bipolar manic phase LOL. And then Murphy came to visit…
First, Murphy came to visit. The well pump broke. Twice. Then our heater went out in negative ZERO degree weather. Then the freezer. And then later the AC unit. Two blown out tires after running over trash dropped on our road by the house. Between high deductibles, a marginal emergency fund, and just aiming too high the first time, I didn’t have the money to finish what I started. We couldn’t purchase the amendments we needed for the soil and ended up doing container gardening. They did well…. until the escape artist pig got to them. No more garden. Next time I will aim a little lower and start a little smaller. Which brings me to my second lesson….
2. HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN TO THE BACK-UP PLAN. Back in the late spring of last year, my sister asked me if I could raise up some meat chickens for her and her family to take back home with them when they came to visit. I quickly agreed and started prepping. I ordered the chicks, found a non-soy/non-GMO natural feed, and designed housing for them. Initially everything went well. But then it got hot. Really, really, hot. Hotter than anyone could have predicted. The young chicks literally began to cook in the heat. I gave them fresh cool water several times daily, I misted them with cool water, I set out frozen water jugs for them to huddle around, and I did many other things I could think of to cool them off. I finally had to move them off pasture and into a sick bay pen in the shade that was big enough for all of them while I came up with plan B. I did get them into a better situation eventually, but the damage was already done. Their growth had been significantly stunted. No matter what I did, how much I fed them.. they never did reach the weights they should have. And many of them died. Though my sister was very understanding- my niece told me it was very thoughtful of me to grow chickens “just my size”- I cringe to think of my fledgling business reputation if it had been a non-family customer.
3. PROCRASTINATION IS A CRUEL MISTRESS. She lures you in with empty promises of free time: she uses seductive words like “tomorrow” or “next payday.” She lulls you into a false sense of security, so that you truly believe you’re doing the right thing by buying a trailer for your car (that doesn’t have a hitch yet) or by breeding your pig before reinforcing the fence line. Everything is just peachy—— until you end up driving almost three hours with over a dozen stinky meat chickens shitting in Rubbermaid totes in the back of the car, trying to push out of the chicken wire precariously preventing their escape. And you can’t get that smell out of your car for another month.
Or you relax while sipping your coffee Sunday morning while looking out the window, only to see piglets making a mad dash across the front lawn. Then you rush outside in your jammies and chicken boots only to see that ALL NINE piglets are on the move. You then spend the next two hours chasing them all down and fixing the fencing.
Forget the cruel mistress.
Procrastination is a BITCH.
4. DEATH HAPPENS. And it sucks. No matter how well we plan, or how hard we work, death will inevitably happen. Looking back over the year, we have seen death a number of times. We lost numerous meat chickens to the heat. We lost several of our new laying hens to being egg-bound. We lost Bacon’s companion to pneumonia the week after we brought him home, and we almost lost Bacon to it as well. We lost one of Bacon’s piglets to a birth defect: we took him to the vet and had him put down humanely as soon as we realized he was suffering. Surprisingly, we did not lose a single turkey- the animal with the highest mortality rate. We even almost lost Chase to a rattlesnake den when he was bitten THREE TIMES while saving my minion’s life. By the grace of God (and the best veterinarian in the county) he pulled through.
But yeah, death happens. And it is sad. Rather than run the farm by the all-too-common farming phrase “you can’t have livestock without dead stock”, we choose instead to learn from every single death in order to do our best to prevent it in the future.
5. DO NOT GET AHEAD OF YOURSELF. Now, part of this one is my personality and another part could possibly my bipolar tendencies rearing their crazy head. Putting the cart before the horse (or in my case the chickens or piglets) is probably the hardest lesson I have learned, because I have done it repeatedly. From the garden to breeding Bacon without enough guaranteed buyers, to elaborate plans without proper budgeting; I have definitely learned the hard way to slow down and plan things out before diving in. A huge part of this is due to overestimating my health and underestimating my disabilities. I don’t know how many projects I’ve thrown myself into only to have to quit or postpone because I couldn’t physically or mentally finish. Another time I made the mistake of word-of-mouth advertising before getting properly settled in. I actually lost so much money on my first few big sales simply because I wasn’t prepared. That being said, I learned from each of these mistakes and thankfully have not repeated them (made plenty of others though).
What about y’all? Any lessons you’ve learned the hard way? Drop a comment below!