176: 10+ Lessons from 10 Years on the Homestead
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It’s been ten years since we signed the papers on our 5 acre homestead in central Minnesota. We closed on our farm a couple days after Christmas of 2011, so for a lot of reasons, Clucky Dickens Farm really felt like a Christmas present!
So what have we learned after ten years of being on our homestead and living the homesteading life?
1. The animals you thought you wanted are not necessarily the animals you will keep.
When I moved to the farm, I wanted goats. The way I saw it, goats were the meaning of life.
So, we got goats, and we had them for about 3 years.
But… then I sold my goats. I ultimately discovered that goats were not for me. It was the same story with my husband and the horse he always wanted. You know how sometimes the idea of something is different than the reality of that thing? Yeah. That.
Conversely, the animals you decide to just try might become your favorite thing. Such was the case for me and pigs. I didn’t want to have pigs, but I was out voted and so we decided to try them for a year. Now we have pigs every year because of me.
Also, the animals you had an bad experience with at one place might work out just fine in a new place. I swore I would never have ducks again because of our experience with ducks before the farm. But ducks here at the farm is a completely different experience, due to the actual property, and now I love them and can’t imagine our farm without them.
I’ve learned that what animals work for you won’t be revealed until you try them out at your homestead. So when people ask me about the best animal for a new homesteader, my real answer is pick one and see how it goes.
2. Moving to a farm is a family thing, but it’s not necessarily everyone’s identity.
Just because you all live on a farm doesn’t mean that you all view the farm as your life or your be all, end all.
When my boys were a bit younger, I had someone ask about hiring my boys to do some work, and assumed they knew how to do that work because they were farm boys. I do not think of my kids as “farm boys” at all. Now, they are helpful, they can absolutely take care of the farm while I’m gone, but I don’t think of them as “farm boys”—and I don’t think they would claim that identity either.
Same with my hubby. I don’t think he thinks of himself as a farmer. I’ve even heard my husband tell people it’s Amy’s farm and he just helps out when needed.
Do I think of myself as a farmgirl? Sure do. And while there is big stuff in the barn that sometimes requires other people’s help—butcher day, anyone?—the day to day of making farm life happen is definitely on my plate—and I don’t mind it one bit.
I think this is important to bring up because a lot of people move to a farm thinking it’s going to be their entire family’s identity. Like, their little kids will be so involved, and if the kids grow up picking eggs at age 5, they will still love that at 15, and will totally want to move to a farm of their own.
Not necessarily, my friends.
3. You will not talk about everything that happens on the farm
When I moved to the farm, I thought, “what a plethora of experiences I’m jumping into!” And as someone who really likes to teach others, I couldn’t wait to share all of that information. But I learned that we don’t talk about everything that happens on the farm.
I am much more honest in a Telegram chat or a private message than I would be publicly on my website or YouTube channel. There are three reasons for that:
a) Content creators have big eyes watching them, and there are certain things you can’t say on your site because the USDA/FDA/whatever DA will come after you. Or you have to fill your article/video with disclaimers so someone doesn’t do something stupid and then sue you. So while I might have some alternative remedies that have worked really well for me, I’m probably not going to write an article about it. But if you ask me a question in a private message or if you happen to meet me in real life, I’ll talk to you all day about certain things that you won’t find on my sites.
b) I have learned there are things in the homesteading world that just attract drama. Various aspects about chickens, canning, anything about strays or barn cats – especially vetting/neutering/spaying. Dealing with predators. Dealing with sick animals. I have a list of topics that I am very careful about or steer clear from all together—unless we’re in a private chat.
c) The truth is, people who don’t live on a farm just don’t understand everything that happens on a farm. The longer you homestead, the easier it is to learn who wants to hear about and will understand (or handle) your adventure… and who you should maybe just talk about something else with.
4. Death becomes normal.
If you have animals on your farm, death will absolutely be something you deal with. And death will become normal to you. That doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t bother you. It means it becomes a normal thing for you. There is a lot of life on a farm and there is also lot of death, both expected and unexpected.
You never know what you’re going to find when you walk into the barn. It’s exciting when it’s a free range mama hen who comes walking in the back door with 12 new chicks. It’s not awesome when it’s a dead goat or two roosters who have beat the crap out of each other or a turkey poult that drowned itself in a waterer or any number of things. As weird as it is to say, you get used to it. You never really know how to explain that to people who don’t live on a farm, and you don’t have to explain it to people who do.
5. You are not Ma Ingalls and it is not 1882.
Ten years ago when I moved to the farm, I had this fantasy where I was basically going to be some off-brand Amish wannabe who shunned any technology that I didn’t absolutely need. Which worked fine… until I didn’t have any clue what was going on with my extended family/the world, I kinda wanted some Starbucks coffee, and my kids wanted to switch from fiddle to electric guitar. And play DnD. Collecting eggs is cool, mom, and building tree forts is cool, mom, but you know what else is cool? Spongebob Squarepants.
We all have lives outside of the farm that sometimes take away from the farm. Sometimes we’re involved with something that doesn’t seem to “fit” with “life as a homesteader”. It can often feel like we have one foot in the simple old fashioned life, and another foot in modern times.
And it’s okay to be okay with that.
Ma Ingalls’ life revolved around the homestead. Her life was the homestead. Yours probably isn’t. You won’t always do things the old fashioned way and that’s okay. Sometimes you will hang your clothes on the line and other times you will use the dryer. Sometimes you’re sitting down to a nice family dinner and other times your family is going 30 different directions at once. Homesteading today is a blend of old fashioned and modern, simple and complicated, life at home and life running to meetings, and 4H, and Walmart.
And that’s okay. Let it be what it is or you will drive yourself crazy. Ask me how I know.
6. There are a million ways to do things.
It’s common to move to a homestead, research what you’re gonna do, and then do it. It’s also common to find out that the way you planned to do it doesn’t work.
The way that things work at your homestead will depend on a lot—where you live, how big your homestead is, who you have helping you, how old you are. The internet and its various experts can be very helpful to homesteaders who are just starting out, but one of the downfalls is that sometimes what’s being taught by the expert homesteader is assumed to be or insinuated as the best or only way for that thing to be done.
I’ve learned as a content creator in the homesteading space that when I talk about how to do something, I make sure I preface it with “this is how we do it on our homestead” or “this is what has worked for me”. Some people still hear that as “this is what you’re telling me to do” because they need a reason to disagree with you. Case in point, my Three Reasons We Don’t Feed Chick Starter article—which I still get hate mail about, even though the article clearly states in the beginning: I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t feed starter. I’m telling you that we don’t feed starter.
There are a millions ways to do things, friend. That’s what I’m trying to explain
7. Every year is different.
The first summer we lived here, we had the most amazing crop of sweet corn. We had so much sweet corn, we were giving it away. We thought, we live in a miraculous spot for growing sweet corn! This is great!
As it turned out—plot twist!—we have not been able to grow sweet corn since then. Oh we tried for a few years, doing everything the same as that first summer… and it turned out so badly year after year, that we stopped planting sweet corn.
I’ve had years the grapevines just explode with grapes and years they look horrible. I’ve had years where I can’t keep up with the tomato harvest and years where I’m poking the plant saying, come on, do something. I’ve had years where I’m lucky if I see two rats and I’ve had years where… oh my word, the rats are taking over. I’ve had years when I don’t see a single stray cat and I’ve had years where they’ve literally been dropped, night after night, in my driveway.
Every year on your homestead will be different. Floods and drought, prices of feed or hay—and really this is all a lesson in what you can control and what you can’t. Ten years on our homestead has been very humbling. It’s taught me there is a lot I can’t control.
8. It’s a never ending project.
When we moved to our farm, there was a lot of stuff that had to be “finished” in the house. For instance, there was no flooring. There were very few appliances. There were a lot of things we had to do in order to actually move in.
We also took out a wall to open the floor plan, which required messing with a staircase (thanks Dad!).
The barns hadn’t been used in years and needed a lot of love inside—not to mention, the scraping and hauling of several feet of sheep manure, rumored to have been sitting for 20 years. We cleaned and repaired the insides of the barns and built new stalls. Then—as a condition of our home loan—we repainted the full exteriors of both red barns.
With that and a whole bunch of other stuff, we were busy that first year. And it’s continued every year as renovations, improvements, and changes happen.
And that won’t ever stop. Because we want apple trees. We want a smokehouse. We want a lot of things, too many to mention here. We will never not be busy.
And there’s always the added adventure of the many homesteading books/channels out there to make you say, “oooo, you know what we should try?” Your farm can be running perfectly fine and then someone gets a hair up their hiney that they want to try quail or rabbits.
Why? Well, because… why not?
You are never not busy on a homestead. There is always something to do.
9. It’s really hard to video/ photograph/write about everything you do on the farm.
Living on a homestead for ten years means I have experiences to share with people. I have things I can teach people about homesteading. I have mistakes I’ve made that I can tell you about so you don’t have to make the same mistakes, and I have successes that you can also learn from as well.
However. I have realized that it’s harder to capture all that stuff than I thought it would be, and there are three reasons for that.
One, because what happens here is my normal and I don’t always think about it being something I should share until after it’s already passed. It’s sometimes takes someone else asking, “hey, do you have an article/video on XYZ?” And sometimes I don’t simply because it never occurred to me that XYZ is something I should do an article or a video about. It’s almost as if when you’re homesteading, you get in the zone of, “this is what I’m doing, I’m doing my thing, this thing that everyone else is doing” and you forget that not everyone is doing what you’re doing and that so much of your normal everyday is a teaching moment for people who aren’t as far along the path as you.
Secondly, when you are a homesteader and create content as a homesteader, you have a tricky line to walk. Because you don’t want your homestead to become I’m homesteading for my audience and not I’m homesteading for our family. Meaning, I don’t want to be the family who doesn’t get to eat the pie together because Mom is off taking 75 pictures of it to get the perfect one for Instagram.
Part of me wonders if I’d be making different kinds of videos if my kids were younger. Because the simplicity of little kids picking eggs out of the nesting boxes or running around with goats gets all the ahhhs, right? But the other part of me wonders what it’s like for kids who grow up with popular blogger or YouTuber parents. (“Ok, go back and pick that egg out of the nesting box again. Okay, now turn to the camera…”)
The third reason is simply logistical. When you’re working around the homestead, it’s hard to carry a camera around with you everywhere to take video or pictures. I can teach the internet to butcher a lot of different animals, but it’s hard to do that when my hands are on or in the carcass.
This is something I’m hoping to remedy in the coming year, however, because passing along knowledge is the only way this lifestyle continues for other people.
10. You will screw things up.
You may unintentionally cause the death of an animal. You may almost burn your barn down. You may take on way too much, get overwhelmed, and cause the collapse of a system you worked hard to put in place. You may do a lot of dumb things, either out of inexperience or hard-headedness, and some of those things will teach you lessons that are super uncomfortable and really suck.
But you can’t let the fear of knowing you will screw something up stop you from doing that thing. Sometimes you have to be willing to really screw something up in order to get better at it, and homesteading is definitely one of the places you will have to try that out.
11. Homesteading costs money.
There will forever be an argument about whether homesteading saves money or not. I would say in some ways it does, in others, not so much. Like in everything else, it all depends. Sometimes with changes in how you live, you’re merely trading one bill for another.
I will certainly say that I wouldn’t be able to afford the quality of food I’m eating if I wasn’t raising it myself. That’s a for sure.
But that doesn’t mean homesteading is cheap. It’s easy to fantasize that because the simple life doesn’t have all those “frills and complications”, that somehow homesteading comes without big bills.
But it’s easy to make assumptions about a life you don’t live. People will end up spending money in places they don’t even realize exist until they are living a certain lifestyle. I mean, I was clueless there was a thing called a water bill until I got married and moved to a tiny house on main street. As someone who had grown up with well water her entire life, it blew my mind that some people have a monthly bill for their water usage? Say… what?
With homesteading, you will save in some areas and spend in others. If anything, in my experience, it all balances out.
12. Homesteading is not at all what you think it will be.
When you decide to become a homesteader/move to a farm, you often have a vision of what it’s going to be like. Some of us read a lot of Little House on the Prairie, some of us followed YouTube channels, some of us wanted to be like a certain homesteading blogger, some of us just wanted to get back to the simplicity we think our great great grandparents had.
Whatever the reasons are that we chose to move to a farm ten years ago, I will say this: moving to the farm is infinitely more everything than I thought it would be. It is more difficult, more expensive, more peaceful, more awesome, more work, and life-changing than I ever imagined it would be.
And I wouldn’t change it for anything.
— Amy Dingmann, 12-21-21
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