5 Common Homesteading Mistakes to Avoid
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Raising chickens. Growing vegetables. Baking bread. Becoming a homesteader is a huge step into a great adventure, but before you get started, let’s look at five common homesteading mistakes that folks make when they first start out on the journey. Hopefully this information can help you avoid the same issues—or at least know what to watch out for!)
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
1. Getting too big too fast:
This is first on our list of homesteading mistakes because almost every homesteader does it—author included. It goes along with the excitement of becoming a homesteader. Speaking from my own experience of filling the farm up too fast, here’s why you need to be careful.
The problem with getting too big too fast is not just that you get overwhelmed by going from 0 to 60 in four days. It’s also that when you fill your farm up right away, you don’t have the time and space to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and to deal with it accordingly.
Consider this: where are the low spots on your property? Where does the sun reach? Because of the placement of the buildings, does the ice ever thaw from the north side of the barn? Can you keep chickens in that one barn, or is a better spot for them the shed on the other side of the yard? Will the goats work in the east pasture, or is there something poisonous growing there?
Filling your farm up too fast may also find you suddenly overwhelmed with feed costs. It’s really easy to forget that those adorable chicks and goat kids and piglets will grow into adults who eat a lot more than they do as babies. You might have the space to take every single one of those adorable little animals home…but friend, they all need to eat. Every day.
And sure, you were going to free range your birds to cut down on feed costs. But when the neighbors get a dog that frequently gets loose to play chicken football, you suddenly realize you don’t have room in the barn for 60 chickens/ducks/turkeys to stay safe all day. And feeding 60 chickens is a lot more money than, you know, feeding the 12 chickens your husband suggested you keep.
Whether you assume (or hope!) an animal (or plant) is perfect for your farm doesn’t really matter. The reality is that not all animals (or plants) will work at your farm. Or some will work but with way more effort or modifications than you realized.
I mean, it makes sense that your pigs would have worked in that one spot. But they kept getting out because their self-made mud hole has become the perfect place to get under the fence. Now you either need to run electric or move them to the other side of the farm. But before they move to the other side of the farm, you have to fix one wall of their would-be shelter…
And you know that’s all gonna take time. Or money. Or both.
In all honesty, punting and changing and fixing is always part of any farm, regardless of how many animals/plants you have, how fast you fill your property up, or how long you’ve been homesteading. But by slowing your roll just a bit, you may find the constant surprises a little easier to deal with.
2. Counting your (customer’s) chickens before they hatch:
What’s interesting about homesteading math is that 2+2 doesn’t always equal 4. Sometimes it equals a big fat zero.
It’s common to become a homesteader and realize that you’re raising things people want and will pay money for. You get wrapped up in the idea that you can make all the dollars with all the things you’re raising and growing and creating at your farm.
And maybe you can. But be careful or you’ll be a victim of another of these homesteading mistakes!
I’ve had many friends who are new to homesteading decide they were going to make a list of customers (and even take deposits) on animals that they hadn’t even built a fence for yet.
An acquaintance of mine had people pre-pay for meat birds that she would raise and butcher. She used part of that money to purchase a lot of day-old chicks. Unfortunately, her heat lamps went out on an unseasonably cold evening and every single one of her brand new chicks died.
A certain amount of chickens should lay a certain amount of eggs in a week, which should give you a certain amount of eggs to sell to customers.
Should being the operative, very important word.
Pigs should grow at a certain rate and should give you a certain amount of meat by a certain time of year.
Planting so many rows of a certain vegetable should give you a certain amount to harvest and sell to people.
But that’s not always how it works. And if you jump into everything head first (and take a bunch of customers with you) you’ll be dealing with people breathing down your neck about things you might have discovered if you’d taken a year to try things out first.
The first year we raised meat birds to sell, we let friends and family know we were raising them and would sell our “extras” on butchering day. We took names of people who might be interested in purchasing on that day. We said nothing about how many there would be. When butchering day was done, we contacted people on the list (in order of how they had responded) to let them know what was available and worked down the list until the extra chickens were gone. That set-up has always worked well for us on the years we consciously raise extra birds to sell.
Another plot twist you may experience in homesteading is that everything may work out beautifully and be super productive…and you may decide that dealing with people isn’t worth the extra money or work on your farm. I have known a few homesteaders who have had amazing small operations but simply can’t deal with the customer aspect of it and have gone back to just raising food for themselves and people they know well.
3. Not listening to advice:
Pride is a big part of homesteading mistakes. I have met new homesteaders who believe they know more after reading a couple blog posts than a person who has raised chickens for 50 years. I have met folks who won’t listen to the experience of another homesteader simply because they run their farm differently.
Y’all, don’t be those people.
I’m not saying that there aren’t new things to learn. There are always little tidbits of information to pull in. Homesteading veterans can learn plenty from homesteading newbies. But sometimes the world of technology and internet has us reinventing the wheel when we simply don’t have to. We look for problems that aren’t there and implement solutions we don’t need.
Don’t complicate things that aren’t complicated. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.
And when you get advice that doesn’t seem to apply to your situation? Stick it in your back pocket. Each year on the homestead is different and advice that I didn’t think applied in the beginning has applied at some point the longer we’ve been on the farm.
Unless of course you’re getting advice from someone who has zero experience to back it up. Like, people who tell you how to raise your chickens, goats, or pigs based on the fact that they had a cat when they were in kindergarten.
Another tip? Get a second opinion. Figure out who you can trust and stick an army of those people behind you. Unfortunately, there are people out there who prey on new homesteaders because they know that you don’t know any better. They will sell you animals that are older or a different breed than they say they are. They’ll sell you an animal that has an illness that isn’t immediately noticeable.
4. Not being honest with yourself about your particular homestead:
Maybe you’ve decided to homestead right where you already are. Maybe you’re looking for a property to homestead at. Whatever your situation is, another of the common homesteading mistakes is not being honest about that property, its purpose, the set up, and what it (and you) can handle.
Can you grow the things you want to grow? Can you raise the animals you want to raise? What surrounds your property? Suburbia? A busy road? A sprayed field? Predators?
Do you have room for the animals you want? Can you sustain them? Are you actually self-reliant for their needs? Can you afford to provide for them if not? If you want to have goats but you don’t have space to make hay, you’re going to have to buy it.
How much help do you really have? How much can you do yourself? Is your spouse supportive or not on board with homesteading at all? If you’re single with a full-time job you’re going to have a very different experience ahead of you than a married couple who works from home and has 6 kids.
Is your homestead a hobby farm or a business? Are you homesteading to make money or save money? Have you formulated a plan?
Be honest about the homesteading property and set-up and goals that you have. You’ll sidestep homesteading mistakes, have a much less frustrating experience, and won’t feel like a failure for things you can’t control.
5. Being too strict and legalistic with your homesteading expectations.
When we moved to the farm, I was busy making sure the animals were fed and that my sons had an interesting lesson for homeschool.
But with time comes changes, and changes bring a different kind of busy.
Now I’ve written 6 books, I run 2 websites, and my kids are involved in many different things away from home. Our current stage of life dictates that we actually have to think about what we’re putting into the garden and if we will realistically have time to process those items when September comes.
Life changes all the time, and that’s true even on the homestead.
Very often when we get into homesteading we think of Ma Ingalls. We somehow ignore that in modern day homesteading, we still have to go to our 9-5, take our kids to football and confirmation and 4H. We forget that we have to fit the homesteading thing in between the non-homesteading things, which is frustrating because it sometimes makes us feel like we’re leading a double life!
It’s important to remember that in modern homesteading, we may at times have one foot in a charming, old-fashioned simple life with another foot fully in the chaos of modern life. And to be honest, sometimes we’ve got both feet in one or the other! And the reality of that dictates what we can and can’t do on our homestead at any given time.
Homesteading mistakes: be prepared for the issues!
Making the decision to jump into life as a homesteader is equal parts exciting and scary, fulfilling and overwhelming. There are so many mistakes to be made! But by having a heads up on these common homesteading mistakes, you can step into your homesteading journey with a little more confidence knowing what might come up and how to slow down to sidestep those issues.
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