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The realities and joys of farmsteading are often a bittersweet mix. If you are new to the farming lifestyle, then you may not have experienced much of this. If you have been farming for a while, then you are all too familiar with these. So often people begin farming and quickly become overwhelmed by what seems to them to be contradictions in the lifestyle. They don’t know what to do with the “living off the land” idea and the harmony of this lifestyle when confronted with the reality of having to put down an animal or just butchering time. So often, this lifestyle is romanticized, especially here in the U.S. When you start with a romantic view of farm life, the reality can be very disappointing. By nature I am a romantic person, as my husband often tells me, but having been born and raised as a farm girl I knew the realities of this lifestyle.
When most people think of farmsteading/homesteading, they envision rolling green pastures with cattle and sheep grazing; ideal chicken coops and chicken yards; chickens free ranging; beautiful clean barns; the nice white farmhouse with the picket fence and at least two dogs in the yard. While some people do manage to obtain this ideal, most of us do not. Not that all farmers want that, but you get the idea. What you don’t see is the years of work that go in to building up a farm. The years of sacrifice, planning, and the countless hours of hard work, tears, sweat, and yes, even blood.
If you’re like me, the reality of farm life is this: you wake up before dawn, turn the coffee pot on, get dressed and ready to go out to do chores. It’s raining? It’s snowing? It’s 20° below zero? *Deep Sigh* It doesn’t matter, the chores have to be done. You have a cold, the flu, stomach virus? Still, the chores have to be done. If you have a sick animal, often times it has to be tended all night. Birthing season? Sleep becomes a rare commodity. The one thing you can count on every day on a farm is the unexpected. A fence gets broken; a piece of equipment goes down; a skunk shows up at the hen house; the levee breaks on the pond; the late night awakenings because you have to deal with predators. On and on the list could go.
So why would anyone want to have this lifestyle? The realities and the joys. Yes, they go hand in hand. Discouraged? Don’t be. While the realities of farm life are often difficult, challenging, even exhausting, they are also just as much a part of the joy, surprise, and blessings.
The hardest days, for me, are butchering days. I’ve never gotten used to those days, and I hope I never do. But the reality of self-sufficiency is that something dies for you to put food on the table. It’s really no different even if you buy your meat at the store. Somewhere somebody kills the animal that you purchase as a steak, chicken breasts, as a roast, or even a fish. It’s all part of the circle of life, you just don’t have to be a part of it. For me, being a part of it is important.
Planting seeds, watching them break through the ground and do exactly what God designed them to do thousands of years ago is exhilarating. Watching the hens set eggs for 21 days and then seeing her excitement as they begin to hatch and finally just sitting and watching all those fluffy little chicks move around the yard with her and learn how to be chickens. The excitement, fear, and anticipation that comes when your goat or cow is giving birth and she want’s you right there with her, so you’re there to comfort her and help her as she gives birth to the next generation of your farm animals; only a farmer can understand.
For us, the knowledge of where the food that you’re putting on the table comes from, how it was grown, how it was handled and processed, what it was fed, cannot have a monetary value. They are the essence of farming. There are beautiful sunsets; long walks around the property checking fences; a nice cup of coffee or a glass of wine on the back porch looking out over the fields or the woods; watching the wildlife move around the property, all these bring overwhelming feelings of satisfaction, well-being, and gratitude to fill my heart.
There are a few tips that I believe will help you on your way, or maybe even encourage you if you already on the journey:
1) Deal with and face the realities of farmsteading. Know that there are good days and bad days just as in any other walk of life. There will be good decisions and bad decisions, you just face them and deal with the choice you make.
2) Set your priorities and be realistic with them. Decide what’s most important and work toward that. Start with something small, like chickens for instance, and build from there. If you don’t have a lot of experience gardening, start with a small garden. Get with a local farmer and spend time with them, help them work their gardens, maybe even for shares while you learn from them. Most of us are happy to help others learn and grow.
3) Expect the unexpected. You have to be flexible. I start every day with a list of things that I would like to accomplish that day and every day something gets added unexpectedly, without fail. So you make adjustments. You decide what’s most important and you go from there.
4) Don’t be afraid of failure. Even though I was born and raised on a farm, I still fail (don’t look so shocked)! 🙂 We have to see failure as an opportunity to learn. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control, maybe you just simply didn’t know, or you took a shortcut that didn’t work, or tried something new.
5) Don’t be afraid ask questions. When I was little girl I asked a lot of questions. Someone in my family was trying to discourage me from this and my grandfather really made me feel better. He said, “Rhonda Lynn, (he always used my first and middle name) the only stupid question is a question that you already know the answer to.” He was right. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to ask questions. I still ask questions. No farmer ever gets to the place where they know it all, never.
6) Don’t worry about what other people expect or think. You and your family know the reasons you’re farmsteading, the things you want to accomplish, and what really matters to you. While seeking the advice of others is important, you cannot let their expectations and the things they do or say cause you to feel inadequate, stressed, or like your way isn’t worthwhile. My grandfather always told me and we really try to live this way, “There’s as many ways of gettin’ a farm job done as there’s farmers. Ya gotta be willing to listen, help, and learn from ’em, even it’s just to see what not to do.”
7) Above all else, you have to have a sense of humor. My grandmother always said, “It’s better to laugh than cry.” The older I get, the more I realize she is so right! Getting frustrated or upset in any given situation can cause things to spiral out of control. You have to learn to laugh at yourself, at your mistakes, and even laugh with others who are sometimes laughing at you.
I hope you found some encouragement, some freedom, that you are able to take a deep breath and just let things go because you spent time reading this article. This lifestyle is so wonderful, so energizing, and yes, complex and often times exhausting; but worth it? Oh most definitely!
I hope you know that my desire is to be a source of information, help, and encouragement for you. You can leave a comment or use the contact me page, with your questions, concerns, your ideas, and/ or suggestions. I always look forward to hearing from you. I may not always know the answer, but together we can find someone who does.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack
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