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Four Reasons Not To Homestead

Alethea WilcoxIt's hard to believe that it's been 3 and 1/2 years since my husband and I started our homestead. We bought 12 acres. No house, barn, electricity or well — just land. After a year into the purchase of our acreage, we started our homestead. Sold our home in town and moved out. We had to build our house (we did some of the work), put a well in, electricity, and fix fencing and so on.

Along the way my husband and I have learned a few things. Yep, read up. If you are interested in homesteading or just getting started — there are some things to consider. Yes, I am going to say it. Homesteading isn't for everyone (gasp). Why do I say homesteading isn't for everyone? Homesteading involves a lot of things ... goals, hard work, flexibility, determination and a willingness to fail. I picked my top four reasons why NOT to homestead.

The first reason not to homestead involves goals. You will have to set priorities. If you don’t like to make goals then homesteading may not work for you. What do you want to achieve when homesteading? This is specific to the individual. Each person should set their own personal goals. You need something that you can see accomplished. You need both long term and short term objectives. For example, my husband and I knew we wanted a garden (long term goal). One of our first projects was a garden fence to keep chickens out (short term goal). A garden without a fence is a fantastic buffet for chickens. Sometimes I look at the garden fence I remember at one point it was just a goal on a piece of paper. The garden is now growing and safe from chickens (until they plan a corn heist, we are on to them and their sick plan). Set your goals and work on them.

Working in the Garden

The second reason not to homestead is work. If you think work is a four letter word, homesteading may not be for you. You have to be willing to work hard. You have to be dedicated. Your results are directly related to how much work you are willing to put into your homestead. It's just life on a homestead. My husband and I have spent hours building fencing. You don’t quit until the job is done. We have been out fixing fences with sun beating down on us. Sweat dripping off our faces. Mosquitoes pestering us. The good thing about work? You can look around your homestead and know YOU did it! If you are willing to work, things will happen.

The third reason not to homestead is that you have to be willing to be flexible. What do I mean by flexible? Go with the flow. If you have a hard time being flexible or having to change plans — homesteading may not work. Sometimes things won’t go exactly how you thought. Some projects will take more time than planned. Some things will be done out of order. Some things will have to wait on the weather. My husband I finished the fencing for the garden but rain put us behind. We had to adjust to the fact the garden was planted a little later then we wanted. Sometimes things will just go sideways. It's just life on a homestead. Sometimes things turn out differently but being flexible helps.

Spring Harvest Swiss Chard

The fourth reason not to homestead is failure. You have to be willing to fail. Oh yes, I mean F-A-I-L. Homesteading is all one big experiment. There are going to be things that work for you and things that don’t. I tried to grow bush green beans. I don't know why but I can’t seem to get the bush beans to grow. I failed. It was extremely frustrating to me. I can grow pole beans. So I chose to focus on pole beans. Failure is part of the homesteading process. Some things will work and some things won’t. Failures on the homestead don’t make you a bad homesteader. When something doesn’t work, it's okay. It means you found a way not to do something. Talk to other homesteaders in your area. They can tell you, for example, what plants grow well in your climate or what doesn’t. Grow, learn and don’t be afraid to fail!

Cutting Herbs in the Garden

The Pigs and the Lightning

Alethea WilcoxEvery spring, on our little farm, we start the search to buy piglets. Our farm has raised pastured pork for a few years.  This year my husband and I decided to purchase an entire litter. Unfortunately the deal fell through. We never heard back from the breeder. My husband and I were very disappointed. I suppose we could have given up, but I was determined to fill our freezer and have enough for some customers. You know what the Marine Corps says: Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.

I did some looking and calling around. I was able to find a very nice woman on Facebook who had some piglets for sale. I have never had luck with Craigslist or Facebook, but hoped for the best. We told the children we would be leaving to go get some pigs later that afternoon. My son, Wyatt, excitedly was picking out names he liked. My girls were looking forward to driving out to pick up the pigs. Our drive was roughly going to be about two hours. We took the old four-door farm truck; it was going to be a rough four hours. The farm truck was never really meant to drive off the farm and certainly not two hours away. I had some concerns about the possibility of being stranded so far away from our home. I had been keeping an eye on weather and noticed some severe thunderstorms that were coming our way. We crossed our fingers and left, hoping for the best.

The pigs ... 

The old farm truck rattled down the Interstate … then it happened. Sixty miles out, it started to dump rain. Most of the vehicles slowed down to a crawl. The force of the rain was so hard the windshield wipers flew apart and you couldn’t see. Lightning was hitting the ground all around us and the thunder was so loud it shook the truck. The rain was bad enough we had to pull off the highway and replace the windshield wipers. Nothing makes a person more jumpy then the possibility of your truck hydroplaning into bolt of lightning. We parked for a bit, but the storm showed no signs of slowing down, so we continued on. The farther we drove the more the weather improved. The children, my husband and I seemed to relax and become talkative again. As the rain cleared, so did the mood in the vehicle.  

... and the lightning. 

We arrived safely at our destination (no small feat). I couldn’t tell if the children were excited to be alive or to see the new pigs! My husband and the seller loaded up the pigs, and we all buckled up to drive back home in the blue farm truck. We made it back home incident free. We unloaded the pigs into their new pasture pens. In spite the rain, thunder and lightning, we managed to end up with piggies! 

The Turkeys and the Owl

Alethea WilcoxA while back a friend gifted our family four Gray Slate turkeys. My children were very excited about the turkeys. The three of them jumped at the opportunity to each pick out their own turkey. The purpose of the turkeys was to allow them to breed and hatch eggs. Not only would this give the children the experience of taking care of the turkeys, they would be able to see the birds grow as well.  

I really don't know a lot about turkeys. My husband and I set the turkeys up in our chicken run. We were working on building a run and coop just for the turkeys. I figured the turkeys would be safe for the time being. You can never predict when something will go wrong.

The turkeys ... 

I was startled awake early – around 6:15 – the next morning because I heard a loud ruckus from both the chickens and the turkeys. I could hear my son, Wyatt, yelling outside. I ran out and saw Wyatt waving around a rake at something large in the corner of the chicken run. He had dragged the dog crate in the coop and put the turkeys in the crate. Wyatt was standing between the turkeys and a very large owl. I was a little shocked that Wyatt had acted so fast and figured out how to keep the turkeys safe from the owl.

... and the owl. 

The owl had destroyed one of the turkeys – ripping its wings off, its head and eating the body. It's always devastating to lose an animal ... especially to a predator. You can't really gloss over farm life ... sometimes life’s lessons are a little hard to understand. Owls are predators ... they will do whatever it takes to grab a meal. They are NOT the cute little fluffy animals you see on baby quilts and in bedtime stories. Don't get me wrong ... owls are very beautiful birds, but they are deadly.

Unfortunately this owl had done its damage and was hissing and flying around my head. Wyatt dragged the dog kennel out of the run and was standing outside watching. We managed to safely remove the owl and figure out how the owl got into the run.

The owl had snuck in through a loose slat in the roof. Not an easy spot to see and it needed to be fixed. So my husband and I worked on fixing the slat in the roof and hopefully prevent the loss of anymore turkeys. The odd thing about the owl is the fact that we have lots of loose chickens running around. I have no idea why the owl went after something in a coop versus a loose hen running around free. Maybe it was just a moment of opportunity?

It wasn’t the best way to start a morning on the farm ... and even worse morning for our lost turkey. Farm life and homesteading, while a blessing, can occasionally have its disappointing moments. Nature sometimes has other plans then we intend. It was sad to lose a turkey but sometimes things are out of our control. It was an interesting lesson for our family – nature sometimes doesn’t cooperate and things can go wrong. What makes a difference is HOW you handle it.

We were sad .. .yes. Did we expect it? No. Did we take measures to prevent it in the future? Yes. We as a family can learn from both the good and the bad. That's just farm life and homesteading. Pure and simple.

The Gift In An Egg

Alethea WilcoxEarly Saturday morning I heard screaming coming through my window ... my heart skipped a beat. I stopped and listened carefully. My girls had gone outside to let out the chickens, and feed and water them. Screaming from the girls was unusual. Before I could go out and check, they came running inside. My older daughter, Emma, was holding an egg in her hand. "Momma, LISTEN!” she said. Her eyes were huge and she was excited. My younger daughter, Lorelai, was jumping up and down giggling. I took the egg and held it up to my ear. Sure enough not only did the egg wiggle, it was peeping! I smiled. It wouldn’t be long now before we would have some chicks.

hen and eggs

Sunday morning came and the girls came running in during chores. The chicks had made their entrance into the world! The girls were screaming, giggling and dragging me out the door to the chicken coop. I could see a chick peeking timidly out from under its momma and looking at us. The girls were beyond excited and seemed surprised putting the eggs under the hen had worked. I could hear the hen clucking and cooing at her chicks. My girls were grinning from ear to ear.

hen and eggs

It made my heart happy to see how much my girls have come to love chicks and chickens. The girls and I had collected a bunch of potentially fertilized eggs and placed them under a Cuckoo Maran that had gone broody. We don’t have electricity so using a brooder wasn’t an option for chicks. About 22 days later, give or take, we had chicks. It seemed to work well and we had five out of eight hatch. The girls were fascinated with the whole process. It’s a beautiful thing to see an egg turn into chick. You know that eventually that chick will give you a priceless gift, breakfast, assuming it’s a hen. My girls seem to understand the importance of an egg, chick, hen and even the rooster. Each has its place on our little farm,­ both the hen and the rooster have important jobs to do.

I think the point was understood by my girls ... chicks are great but to understand the whole process ... you need to start with the egg!

The Garden Experiment

Alethea WilcoxOne of the first skills that came to mind involving homesteading and being self-sufficient is the concept of gardening. When starting a homestead I came to the realization that only certain things would get done. That is just a fact. My husband and I have a long running To-Do List and only so many hours in a day! I knew this spring/summer was not going to look like the plans I had in my head. Honestly that was OK once I adjusted. We don’t have a well yet, but we do have the permit and a “date.” I put that in quotes because all things when building a house are NOT exact. The well is coming … or so that is the rumor. My husband I haul water for now. So rather than seeing this as a problem … I had to figure out how to have a smaller garden in spite of the lack of running water.

We chose to first focus on building the garden fencing and got it done. The watering issue was a little more interesting. I knew every bucket of water hauled had to count. Meaning no wasting water … it had to be efficient. Colorado is famous for its heat in summer and drastic swings in weather. I did a little research and came up with simple solution. Five-gallon buckets … buried in the ground. Yep, a bucket. My husband I drilled holes around the sides of the buckets. One row of holes 2 inches from the bottom, one about 3 inches from the top and about three holes in the very bottom of the bucket. We buried buckets in the dirt with only about 2 inches not covered. We planted summer squash around one bucket, tomatoes around another bucket and winter squash around another. The idea was based on a method called the Japanese Tomato Ring.

Zucchini Around The Bucket

The Japanese Tomato Ring  is a circle of tomatoes planted around a compost pile. The compost pile feeds the tomatoes as you water it. I used the same basic method but put buckets in the middle filled a quarter of the way with compost. This allows me to haul a 5-gallon bucket of water twice a week for the plants. It waters deep enough they seem happy. I need to mulch around the plants. I think this might help with some of the evaporation in the heat. Overall it seems to be working! We have already enjoyed some of the tomatoes and have some zucchini ready to pick.

Yellow Squash

The Garden At Sunset

The Cycle of Farm Life

Alethea WilcoxHere at the farm, we are busy setting up fencing for rotational grazing. We will be picking up a litter of pigs in a few weeks. My husband and I go through this every year. We only keep the pigs from spring to fall – ending at butcher time. We work together as a family and care for the pigs until it’s time for them to go.

girl and pig
Our daughter feeding Hammy.

It’s been interesting watching and working with the children through the whole process – pasture to table. They know the pigs are for food and end up in the freezer – our own and customers. I always remind them the purpose of our animals is for food … my children don’t know anything other than the cycle of farm life. Our three children like to name each individual pig ... Hammy, Bacon, Oreo and Pork Chop are some of the names. Not only do the children name each pig, they also know which customer goes home with what pig. I don’t think this is strange … it seems to help them understand that food takes work. The bacon or pork chops didn’t just appear on their plate at supper time. 

pigs
Pigs in the pasture.

Through the summer we enjoy watching the pigs grow and change. Pigs are smart…they know their names, they run around and play with you…they love having their back scratched. A pig is basically like an oversized dog. Each pig has their own personality…we had one who thought it was funny to bury all her feed pans in the mud hole and wait for my husband to find them. Our piggy thought it was a game of sorts…truth be told, it was funny!

playing
Playing in the pasture.

As fall approaches we arrange a time to take the pigs into the butcher. We review customers’ orders and go over the cut sheets. Eventually the day comes and we load the pigs up and drop them off. We ask the men unloading the pigs to give us a few minutes. As a family we say goodbye to each pig and say thank you. Our animals have had a happy life and were loved. We treated the pigs well and now they will take care of us. We always shed a few tears, but we understand the cycle of farm life and it will begin again in the spring.