Some people are envious of homesteaders living the dream. All they see are beautiful sunsets, cute chicks, ducklings, and calves. Other folks wrinkle their foreheads in horror, their nostrils somehow seem to curl, and they gasp in sympathy, disbelief, and confusion at the poor deranged individuals who choose to be homesteaders. So what is the truth about homesteading? Is it hard work, or is it an easy, wonderful life with picture-perfect results?
Homesteading is hard work. The duties and responsibilities do not allow for easy downtime. Much of the work is physically demanding, and you need to problem solve and have multidisciplinary skills. Although the life is tough, most homesteaders choose it over living a comfortable and less self-sufficient life.
If you asked most homesteaders if homesteading is a lot of work, the majority would give a dry laugh and probably not know where to start answering your question. There are many challenging factors involved in homesteading.
Homesteading Is Not For The Faint-Hearted
Homesteading is not for people who give up easily or crumple at the first sign of trouble. One factor that first-time homesteaders do not realize is that they have to suddenly become jack-of-all-trades and master-of-all-trades.
Many homesteads are not conveniently located near towns where a plumber, electrician, or repairman can easily pop out to help you with a problem. Some problems crop up in the middle of the night when no one can help, and you find yourself in the driver’s seat.
This can be a burst water tank, losing your precious reserves of water. It might be a cow with a difficult calving, and the vet is unavailable, or a large, snake in your coop that must be moved immediately to prevent harm to the chicks.
Fences that come down cannot always wait for laborers (if you have any) to come and help you repair them. The herd or flock will be in danger of getting lost or injured if they get out of the field.
This might mean that you have to cut up the tree that fell on the fence, repair the fence and check the livestock to ensure they are all there and none are injured. This usually occurs in pouring rain or just as the sun goes down.
As a homesteader, you need to be capable of turning your hand to any task. Problem-solving will be your most valuable skill when you are homesteading.
Is Homesteading Physically Demanding?
Homesteaders need to be physically fit and strong to cope with the chores they must complete. It is not unusual for homesteaders to walk many miles a day. This mileage is not from going anywhere – it is just walking around their land doing tasks.
Animal feed and seed often come in bags that weigh a considerable amount, usually upwards of fifty pounds ( in some countries, forty to fifty kilograms). Although moving one of these bags may not be strenuous, you may need to carry ten or more while unloading your vehicle.
Hay or grass bales for feed are also considerably heavy. Bales must be collected from fields and stored in barns as they spoil if they are left out in the dew and rain. Many a homesteader has wished they did not plant so much when they are in the middle of bringing in the bales.
Holding down an unwilling animal patient that weighs ten times more than you can definitely be classed as your strength training for the day. Bending over a vegetable field weeding makes you supple but can make you feel ancient when you try standing straight again.
A lot of physical work on homesteads is completed in the burning sun or weather so cold you fear for the safety of your fingers and toes. Your hat quickly becomes a best friend, protecting you from sunburn or icicles on your ears.
Can You Take Vacations When You Run A Homestead?
Running a homestead means having daily tasks that must be attended to every day without fail. This is especially relevant if you have animals, which most homesteaders do.
Animals require water, feeding, turning out into pastures, and checking for injuries and illness on a daily basis. These duties cannot be neglected for even one day. The result is that you still need to make time to tend to your animals on your birthday, Christmas, public holidays, or special events.
A homestead that has only crops can be a little easier to get away from as no one dies if you cannot fulfill your duties each day. If something goes wrong with crops, your bank balance usually suffers. When crops are ready to be harvested, even a delay of one day can result in poorer crops or spoiled crops in some cases.
Planning a vacation becomes something many homesteaders vaguely dream about. It is extremely challenging to find someone capable and willing to take on the responsibility of caring for so many animals – most homesteaders collect them in large numbers. Many homesteaders become anxious about leaving their charges in someone else’s care.
Vacations are not easy to come by when you run a homestead. Some homestead families split vacation time so that some stay at home to run the farm while the others have a break.
Some Unexpected Tasks In Homesteading
There are some tasks that first-time homesteaders do not anticipate and people living in town take for granted. Most revolve around municipal services and the lack thereof in homesteading areas.
Haul Your Own Trash
Although homesteaders try to compost and minimize trash, there is always some trash that needs to be disposed of. Usually, this involves loading it up and driving some distance to the local municipal dump. This chore is an unpleasant smelly one that always seems to come around far too often.
Firefighting And Disaster Management
People in town with access to emergency services call the fire department or ambulance without a second thought. In some rural areas, homesteaders do not have that luxury. If there is a fire, you need to be equipped to handle it yourself, as most fire services are too distant to be of any use to you.
Homesteaders should know first aid and how to respond to medical emergencies. Injuries are not uncommon on homesteads, and medical emergency units are not always available. Precious time may be wasted if the individuals do not know what to do in a medical emergency.
Bad weather, storms, hurricanes, and lightning strikes cause severe damage and injuries. Emergency services may be unavailable as they cannot travel on roads made impassable by the disaster, or they are too distant to help rapidly. Homesteaders must face all of these in their stride without panicking.
Security On Homesteads
In some rural regions, security risks can be a significant concern. These may come from criminals or wildlife and is a major reason why homesteaders keep dogs and own guns. Police and security services are generally too far to help in an emergency. It is up to the homesteader to provide their own security.
Some homesteaders live in peaceful areas, close to small towns that have police departments. These are fortunate people and if you have no stomach for dealing with security, choose a homestead in one of these areas.
Providing Power On Homesteads
Homesteads may have no power suppliers for their homes, either by choice or because none are available. Generating your own power from solar or wind is rewarding but requires maintenance and daily management of your available energy and use.
City dwellers may be surprised that homesteaders have ready knowledge of circuits, power usage of individual appliances, and positioning wind turbines or solar panels to get the best results.
Keeping warm in icy, snowy conditions when you are generating the energy for your home forces you to become creative and rely on older methods for heat. Some of the older skills and practices that homesteaders need are chopping wood for wood stoves or fireplaces, hauling anthracite, and building well-insulated structures.
Water Is Crucial On A Homestead
Homesteads often rely on boreholes or wells to supply them with water. A few lucky people may have water that fountains out the ground. The rest must depend on borehole and booster pumps to access the water and move it to where it is needed.
Knowledge of repairing and installing new pumps is critical as daily water needs are high on homesteads. One dairy cow needs thirty to fifty gallons of water a day. If temperatures are very high, this water amount may double.
Certain crops may need daily watering, or you could lose it all. Homestead residents, chickens, ducks, and pets must all have daily water. Water problems are enough to make homesteaders as skittish as a baby deer.
Is Homesteading Emotionally Taxing?
Homesteaders generally have fewer animals than farmers. A farmer may have a few hundred cattle or sheep, but a homesteader may only have eight to ten. The homesteader is likely to become more emotionally attached to animals under their care.
The loss of animals on a homestead is discouraging, painful, and tiring. Viruses, bacteria, and injuries to animals arise unexpectedly and without warning, taxing the homesteader’s endurance. In addition, each animal represents a financial investment that could significantly impact the viability of the homestead.
Crops are also prone to disease, infestation by pests, and poor development. It is disheartening to see crops destroyed by hail or extreme heat, knowing that you will reap no reward from your hard work.
Homesteading is physically and mentally taxing, and there are times when you may be so exhausted that solving another problem or dealing with another sick animal is beyond your depleted resources.
Homesteading Is Tough Financially
Most people who go into homesteading do not have oodles of money to start with. Many carefully calculate the infrastructure needed and the cost of building it. Unfortunately, unexpected obstacles often need more money when none is available.
It is difficult to predict the expenses involved in homesteading as it relies on nature’s benevolence. Storms, fires, and floods destroy fencing, buildings, and grazing. You may be financially sound in the morning and a runaway fire in the afternoon destroys your grazing and crops.
Suddenly you need to buy in bales of grass, supplement your food supplies, repair water pipes and find money to buy new seeds. Not something you could have foreseen, and it all changed in just a few hours.
Some homesteaders eventually end up with a secondary job that provides some stable income. The homesteader’s mental, emotional, and physical resources are stretched even thinner as they must now meet the demands of their job and complete all the tasks on the homestead.
Why Choose Homesteading If It Is So Difficult?
Although homesteading is challenging, most homesteaders would look at you as if you had fallen on your head if you suggested they give up. This way of life meets the needs of people who have a deep, primal need to live and work in the outdoors.
The connection with the animals they care for and the satisfaction of eating food they have grown is immensely rewarding. The attachment to the land, the animals, and nature becomes entrenched in the homesteader’s soul to the point that leaving it would mean the death of something inside them.
Knowing you are producing your electricity, managing your waste, and feeding yourself provides a sense of achievement not easily obtained in any other sphere. Many homesteading regions develop close-knit communities, a rare commodity in the modern world.
Homesteading is a lot of work – there is no getting around that fact. It is also one of the most rewarding, satisfying endeavors anyone who loves the outdoors could become involved in. No two days are ever the same. Each morning brings the opportunity for incredible, exciting encounters and challenges that cannot be anticipated.