76: Starting Over on the Homestead
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What happens when you need to make the decision to take a break from homesteading? What happens when you have to start over as a homesteader? Let’s look at some reasons you might consider starting over on the homestead, and why it might actually be a good thing.
(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!)
Starting over on the homestead can happen for many reasons.
– natural/personal disaster
– a move
– farm-wide/flock-wide illness
– major change or problem on your property
– the stage of life you’re in
– your current set up isn’t working
– because you simply need a break
I bring this up because sometimes you have to make a hard decision. And what I’ve found in the homesteading community is sometimes there are a lot of people who are faced with a hard decision and don’t want to talk about that hard decision because they are afraid of what other homesteaders might think or might say. There are a lot of you should or you coulds that tend to fly around when people need to take a break from or start over on the homestead. And although they’re often meant to be helpful, they’re often not when you’re in that situation.
Why am I bringing up starting over on the homestead?
I didn’t really publicize this, but we actually butchered all the farm animals on our homestead late last fall (2019)—egg birds, ducks, everything—with the intention of starting over in the spring.
This wasn’t an easy decision. We’ve never not had animals on our farm. So, it’s not as if I walked out to the barn one day and just decided on a whim, “off with their heads”.
Having said that, it really did make sense for us.
— We don’t overwinter pigs. We buy feeders in the spring and butcher them in the fall. So pigs weren’t part of this decision.
— We do overwinter ducks. But we were planning on switching from Pekins to Muscovies in Spring 2020. Knowing that, we decided it didn’t make sense to pay to feed them over winter to then butcher them in the spring.
— We obviously overwinter our egg birds. However, we had a really tough run with our Brahma egg birds. I think it may have just been this particular batch of birds, but they never really laid well for us at all. We’re talking 3 eggs a week from 12 hens at peak. We knew we would be replacing this batch of chickens come Spring 2020, so it didn’t make sense for us to continue to feed them through the winter.
**Everyone runs their homestead differently. I know some people don’t agree with culling birds that are no longer producing, and allow them to live out a long happy life on their homestead. Our homestead runs with the rule that if you’re here, you need to be providing something for the money I’m putting into you. To each their own.
Pros of starting over on the homestead:
Even though it wasn’t an easy decision to make, getting rid of everything gave me the opportunity to do many things. I could:
– Assess what our farm is for. I had the brain space to think about whether our homesteading why, purpose, or direction had changed.
– Figure out our homesteading priorities. Emptying the barn gave me a chance to step back and say, “hey, wait.” People often move to the homestead with many plans, and sometimes move forward with those plans because it’s the next thing on the hamster wheel. Oftentimes you’re so busy, you don’t have time to step back and consider if it’s actually the next best step.
– Go back to the drawing board. I got to ask myself if we are doing the right things for our homestead—feed-wise, seed-wise, etc. I was able to make a list of what needs to be fixed, changed, built, moved, or taken down without having to deal with animals in the process.
– Re-ignite my love of homesteading. Sometimes you need that time without animals to remember why you love having them on the farm. Sometimes you need that year without a garden to remind yourself how much you love having one.
Cons of starting over on the homestead:
What was hard about getting rid of everything and having an empty, quiet barn? I struggled with feeling:
– Crazy. All I could think about is when I could get animals again.
– Fake. Although I don’t recommend being super rigid in the definition of what it means to be a homesteader, I will admit that having been someone who has always had multiple animals on her homestead, two empty barns made me feel like a fraud.
– Less connected to my homestead. When all was quiet in the barn and on the property, and everything green was buried under the snow, it sure did play some mind games with me. You don’t realize how much the homestead is a part of who you are until you take a complete break from it.
Starting over on the homestead: going forward
What I’m planning for in Spring 2020:
– We are going back to layer breeds we’ve had in the past that I know will produce well: leghorns, americanas, Rhode Island reds. And who knows. I may start selling eggs again…
– For ducks, we are switching to Muscovies. Pekins were not good setters, and incubating duck eggs was not as successful for us as chickens. I now want the duck mamas to do their thing without help from me. Finding Muscovies is much harder than Pekins, as most hatcheries don’t carry them. So who knows—in the future, if I like Muscovies, I could end up selling those as well.
– We are looking at a different breed of turkey that’s smaller, possibly an Artisan Gold. Our main issue with raising turkeys was that 9 turkeys filled our huge upright freezer. Broad Breasted Whites grow so fast, and we need some breathing room for turkey butcher time so we don’t end up with dressed turkeys of 20-30 pounds.
– We’re going to make a netted outdoor area for our meat birds and turkeys to hang out in, similar to what we already have for our egg birds and ducks. Wonder what my plans are for that? I talk about it a bit in this video.
– We are raising pigs, of course. Probably one more than usual so we can trade it with a friend who raises beef. A lot of people ask us to raise hogs for them. While I don’t mind raising them, it’s the time spent butchering that makes us keep our numbers down—since we butcher our own.
– We are going to try fermenting feed again. Our birds really loved the fermented feed, but I didn’t keep up on the process. I need to be better about it so I can keep the system working.
– We are going to try fodder again. Fodder was loved by our birds (especially in the winter!) but we always had a problem with mold. I’ve done some research and will be trying a few different things to see if we can get it working again.
– I plan to learn more about my garden this year and what options I have. We’ve spent so much on vegetables the past few months, I really need to get more intentional about trying to get the most I can out of my garden, and then preserve it accordingly.
I’m starting over on the homestead! Here’s to a great Spring 2020. I can hardly wait!
Links mentioned in episode #76
We Drink and We Farm Things (Patreon supporters of A Farmish Kind of Life)
Seeds for Generations (heirloom seeds here!)