I understand wanting, craving to live in the country surrounded by the part of the world you "create." I get loving animals and like having them around you. The thought of walking in from the garden and chicken coops with produce still warm from the sun and eggs that make store-bought taste like flavorless imitations. I really get it. I also know many people go make a go at it and are surprised - in a bad way - by the amount of work this life demands. It gives real meaning to the need to work smart, not just hard. Here are some of my thoughts of making the change and the good and bad to anticipate. Keep in mind, it's not the same for everyone.
We weren't the first and won't be the last to transition into homesteading or step up to small-scale farming. At this point, we have not put in the hours by any means to be considered experts. But, we have learned lessons along the way already.
I've heard that you should rely on those around you to learn what grows in your area and borrow from their experience. I have found those that know and have good first-hand knowledge don't go around preaching to others. They let them try and fail, but as we've developed relationships with our neighbors, some have given us wonderful insight. For example, we're working on rehabilitating our pastures and have planned to kill the noxious weeds (invasive non-natives) and seed with a nice blend of grasses, herbs, and legumes including some alfalfa. One of our neighbors who is about fifteen years ahead of us said he had tried the same thing. He said when he grazed his cattle in this nice rejuvenated pastures, their hooves broke the large central taproot of the alfalfa and killed his plants. They don't hold up to traffic, and he didn't stock his cattle densely at all. He also told us why he preferred Herefords, who are easy to work with, versus Angus, who are more independent. He could give us specific examples of what his experiences were ... hopefully that means expensive and painful lessons we can learn from him rather than our own mistakes.
We've also learned to try things on a smaller scale before ramping up the volume. Of course we don't do it with everything, but it's something we try to do more and more. For example, we get reports of fencing working for all different sorts of species, but when we try it out, it's not quite as promised. We also have bull elk who fight on our property and hit the fences hard, so I need fence that withstands that. I've learned what for different species. Dairy cows are the easiest to keep contained as are the lowline Angus are once they're over year old. Most of our horses are and sheep aren't too bad. However, goats, males in rut, and our guardian dogs are more challenging. Oddly the fence that keeps in the guardians only works form some sheep and goats, and the ones that work for goats won't keep in the goats. By trying smaller areas with different fence, we've been able to come up with a combination that seems to work for all of them quite well. I don't know anyone around us that keeps the same combination of animals or the same breeds, so this isn't something I've been able to ask neighbors.
Pros & Cons
I don't rely on pros and cons lists - one big con or pro can override a lot of other factors. However, here are some of my thoughts for a list.
PRO: Children learn to work - and so do adults. This is a big deal to me as there are enough lazy entitled people in the world who are parasites to society, and I don't want my children to be one of them for my children's and society's sake. There is a lot of work to do on the farm, and I try to make sure it's not all unpleasant. There is an amazing amount of work on the farm, and a lot of it is also good exercise.
CON: Work aversion. By this I mean that teaching children to work on the farm becomes so unpleasant that they hate the idea of the farm life and count the days until they leave home. I think this is a fine balance and we have yet to find out how it works with our kids. We try to make sure to give the fun time, but if things get overly demanding, it's not fun for you or them. It's the same for adults. Some people run themselves so ragged with the farm that they don't enjoy it anymore. I've been there. One thing that helps me is to automate and mechanize things so I'm not doing so much work by hand. If I have a barn full of soiled bedding, I don't want to muck it all out by hand. It's backbreaking stinky work - absolutely unpleasant. So, I want all shelters and buildings to be muck-able by tractor. That means they need to be tall enough and accommodate the tractor moving around. Other things I find helpful include using large bales moved by tractor instead of by hand (I keep cleaner), running more water lines, and using large feeders that don't need daily filling.
PRO: Fresh, fresh food and you know what's happened to it. Many people already know to appreciate this - juicy vine-ripened tomatoes, freshly dug little new potatoes, eggs from that morning, and meat from animals you know were fed well and happy. This is a major attraction for people homesteading, and a really good reason. Food tends to come in abundance, so you do have to learn how to preserve it somehow, which is a lot of work but can be fun too. This is still a lot of work. There are usually endless weeds that try to join the garden, wildlife to keep out, insects to control, and proper watering and fertilizing.
CON: Dust and mud. I don't know that "city people" understand what I mean by this. The picture at the top of the post is of a sheep who crossed at the wrong point and got stuck in the mud. Her two little lambs followed with the same result. Then my husband and daughter followed, so I took pictures and a little video as they freed the livestock and got stuck themselves. Sure it's a lot of laughs, but it makes things more difficult. I have to keep a close count of sheep when they go out on pasture because sometimes one will get stuck, tired from struggling, and won't call for help. Driving equipment entails getting equipment stuck. We're putting in carefully planned driveways with road barrier and rock under it. That's a lot of work, time and money, but another consideration when you don't live on an asphalt cul-de-sac. And the dust! We get dust devils we can see move across the property by the little pieces of vegetation they pick up a hundred feet or more in the air. When they hit a dirt road or pathway (gravel has been okay), they look like little tornados. They carry this dust onto the farm equipment, cars, plants, on and into the house. Sometimes when it's been hot and windy, the sky looks smoggy from dust (and sometimes smoke from forest fires). Going outside to work means acquiring a film of dust stuck to your skin and clothes, and dusting, dusting, dusting inside. Also sweeping and vacuuming and mopping unlike anything you'd do if you lived "in town."
PRO: Surrounded by animals you enjoy. It could be sheep, goats, llamas or alpacas, horses or donkeys, cattle, emus or ostriches, chickens or ducks, other poultry, hogs, extra dogs and cats, whatever works for you. You can buy adults, or raise babies, which we enjoy. You can learn all sorts of things about them and get to know their personalities. It's often hard for me to decide which animals to sell because I like them. It could be listed as a separate con, but animals sometimes die when you don't want them to. Not only is it a monetary loss, it really sucks to loose them. It seems to happen to my favorites. But, I had favorites and enjoyed them while they were around, so I still consider it a pro.
CON: Feeding and veterinarian costs add up. If your pastures are too small to support your livestock, you'll need to feed them year-round. If you're luck enough to have enough forage, you will probably only need to feed them in winter and spring. That means at least buying hay. Sure you can grow your own, but the equipment is expensive and it's a bit of an art. If you think of hiring someone to hay your land for you, keep in mind that there might just be a two week cutting window (or less) and they may not be able to cut yours at the right time. If that's the case, it's not a nutritious or as high in calories. There are also veterinary-related costs. If they get injured or if you need testing, plan to paying a vet. If you learn how, you can do many things on your own such as vaccines, parasite control, and some exams and testing. These can really add up.
PRO: People like to visit you. We're often an attraction - or the farm is - for friends and family as they get to see a lot of animals up close that they don't otherwise interact with. It's fun. I also think some day it will help to have my grandchildren ask and encourage my children to bring them to visit ... that's a ways off, though.
CON: Vacations and traveling can be difficult. This is a deal-breaker for me. If I can't go on vacation or go places, I just can't confine my life to worries on the farm. Being spontaneous is much more difficult. However, we are designing our farm in such a way so we can go on vacation. Sturdy reliable fence is important, feeding in bulk, and automatic waterers are important. We hire a neighbor to keep and eye on things while we're gone, which means we've been lucky to have great neighbors. If we're milking or harvesting or babies are coming, it might not be the right time to go unless someone is trained in milking. I probably wouldn't leave mid-harvest or during birthing season. That's just too much to ask of someone else. You will have to design your farm and operation such that you can leave it and get to know people you can hire or trade farm-sitting with while gone.
PRO: Lifelong learning can be applied to your endeavors. This isn't unique to homesteading or farming, but some people don't realize the wealth of knowledge many farmers have. It's a huge amount of practical information about animals, plants, the land, weather, machinery, and some amazing hobbies. We love to learn all the time and our little operation allows us to diversify so much that we can never learn everything. We love that aspect of what we do.
CON: It costs more than it should. Everything does. Feeding animals - even chickens through the winter - really adds up. Building shelters and storage areas, buying and maintaining equipment, fences, feed and water containers, minerals, vaccines and supplements, and even just buying the original animals. There are tools, sprays and fertilizing (organic or not), storage and preservation for food, plants and seeds, pots and greenhouses, deer fence, and more. Then when you want to sell something you produce, you may not be able to get the price you paid, what seems reasonable, or to sell enough to justify your time and effort. When you figure in your time or hire someone else, it's just really expensive.
PRO: You can work towards self-reliance. If you just like the idea of producing what you consume or if you're one of the "lucky" who live with an impending sense of doom, you can feel more independent and prepared. We really like this aspect as the world is going to fall apart any day now ... it has been that way for decades and seems to keep going, but it gives us peace of mind. There's also the feeling of reconnecting with the real non-digital world, which I quite like. It's not a passing connection, but it's fulfilling and longer-lasting. (And also frustrating when you butt heads with the world you're connecting to!)
Wife to Brandon, mother to Tess and Liam, farmer, entrepreneur, cook & baker, nurse, and accountant who loves to try new things, travel, and work toward greater self-reliance.