7 Harsh Truths about Homesteading
Think it’s an easier, simpler life?
I hear people say all the time how nice it must be to live such a simple enjoyable life. The truth is…they’re right lol. But in a lot of ways they’re also wrong and this often takes new homesteaders by surprise. If you have dreams of homesteading, you need to also know that homesteading isn’t all a dream. Some aspects of it are downright nightmarish.
“If you have dreams of homesteading, you need to also know that homesteading isn’t all a dream.”
1. Homesteading requires many hard long hours of work
Homesteading is flipping hard work lol. Sure there are some days when all I have to do is feed the animals and I can sit round and read a book the rest of the day. I assure you though, that those are days when I’m sick or it’s pouring down rain outside. If I am hale and hearty and the weather is nice, there’s work that has to be done.
Not a 9-5
Homesteading is not a traditional job where you get to work at 9, get a lunch break and a few coffee breaks and then head home at 5. You get up as early as you can make yourself get up (for me it’s around 6-7am and trust me I am NOT a morning person) and then you work as long as you need to.
Now as long as you need to is a debatable length of time…
Maybe you have a small simple homestead (you’re smarter than most of us), and you can get your chores done fairly fast. Maybe you aren’t completely off the grid and you are still relying on modern conveniences like a central heater so you don’t need to cut wood for the winter (not judging, we’re not completely off grid yet ourselves). The cool thing about homesteading is there are all sorts of ways you can do it and if it works for you then it works for you.
However, even if you only have a couple goats or even just chickens, I guarantee you there are going to be days when a goat gets sick or a chicken barely survives a coyote attack and you spend all night nursing the animal. Your schedule depends on the whims of nature
Whims of mother nature
Mother Nature is your manager, and she decides what your work schedule is going to be.
I said I usually get up around 6-7 but that’s kind of an average. Here in the Mojave desert during mid summer it is blazing hot by 8am. I try to get up and going around 4:30am as soon as there’s enough light to work. I try to be done by 8 or 10 at the latest and I hide from the sun in the house until around 7pm. It’s just too dang hot to be outside.
Sometimes nature sends rain and instead of doing your project for the day, you’re digging ditches around the chicken coop to keep it from floating away or you’re spending the next hour trying to put a tarp over the hay during a wind storm.
What you’re going to find when you homestead is that you actually have very little control and it can be frustrating and stressful. There’s things you need to get done, but you can’t prevent the earth from tilting on its access closer to the sun and almost combusting from heat. You can’t prevent the snow storm that buries your tools you stupidly left out when you have an important project to do and now you can’t find them (yes personal experience).
“Mother Nature is your manager, and she decides what your work schedule is going to be.”
2. Homesteading requires a brain
When I first began doing agritourism at the ranch (and before I knew how to advertise to the right customers), we had a lot of farm visitors who would treat us like we were absolute idiots.
The level of disrespect was astonishing. I never understood it until one day I was talking to a guest and mentioned I have a doctorate, my mom also has a PhD and both my sisters have master’s degrees (one has two of them). The guest was absolutely blown away and she said she would have guessed we didn’t even have a college degree since we were farmers.
Seriously? Why wouldn’t a farmer be college educated or more? I know of hardly any farmers or homesteaders without a degree and most have advanced ones. I started mentioning this to more farm visitors and we consistently got surprised responses.
Which makes absolutely no sense
You have to be smart to farm. I mean really smart. There are bachelors and masters and even doctorates in agriculture because it actually requires a good set of brains to do a good job.
You have SOOO much to learn when you farm and homesteading requires just as much or maybe more learning since homesteads are typically so diversified. You will make so many mistakes when you start out that you will wonder why you are even trying to do this, but over the next few years you will get better and better at it.
Lots of studying
One thing you’re going to be doing is studying. Studying sooo much.
You will read books and watch youtube videos and discuss things with homesteader friends and ask them for help or volunteer to help them to learn, maybe even go to workshops and conferences.
Every new animal you get will start the learning process over again with a new set of books and youtube videos and begging friends for advice lol. If you think that sounds wonderful then homesteading is probably for you. If this sounds horrific then please don’t even try. Farming is for the educated and those willing to self educate. It’s not for people who don’t enjoy constant learning.
“Farming is for the educated and those willing to self educate. It’s not for people who don’t enjoy constant learning.”
3. You won’t be able to do everything yourself
A lot of people like the idea of an isolated life on the homestead. It’s quiet, peaceful, you’re your own boss and there’s no one around to bug you. Those ARE all wonderful things, but you’re still going to need help.
Farming requires a community
As a female homesteader, I can’t pick up and move a hay bale. Shoot I can’t open a jar of jelly without help. I find myself regularly needing the help of others whether family or friends.
There are projects that you just can’t do on your own or things that are plain easier if you had help. Try framing and putting up a wall on your own.
You’ll also find that isolation gets lonely after a while and you start wishing for visitors. It’s nice to have someone to chat with for a bit, to talk through problems or show off your new calf.
You will also find that there are times when if you don’t have someone you can call on for help that you could be risking the very lives of your animals. What are you going to do when you’re sick or injured? I once was bucked off a horse and was down for two months. It was only because of my wonderful family and neighbors that my farm kept functioning.
4. Homesteading requires money (at least a bit of it)
Ah the simple life where you will be self sufficient and make everything you need. Money becomes a thing of the past and if you don’t make something yourself, you can just barter a neighbor for it.
Well this can generally be true, but I’m sorry to say that money still plays a role in this life.
First of all you have to get started. You need to buy or rent your land and the mortgage company doesn’t accept pigs as payment (maybe in Alaska). You need to purchase your livestock and your seeds, you have to purchase a cream separator or a honey extractor.
There’s a lot of tools and supplies you’re going to need and sadly, that costs money.
Uncle Sam still requires taxes be paid
Let’s say you have everything you need and you really are raising and creating everything to be truly self sufficient…Uncle Sam still wants his cut.
You’re going to have to keep paying your taxes no matter how off the grid you are. Death and taxes, right?
The nice thing is that as a small farmer, you have TONS of tax write-offs to shelter your income and if you really generate a small enough income, you may owe very few taxes at the end of the day. If you become a company and have an LLC, you can shelter even more of your income as it becomes business income rather than individual income. Make sure you study this more than you ever study your backyard chicken books!
Financially (and physically and emotionally), the best advice I can give you is to start small. I recently saw a facebook ad where someone said they moved out to the countryside from the city and they are ready to start farming so they are looking for a herd of 30 goats.
Start off with TWO goats. Start off with 2-5 chickens. Don’t get any cows, pigs or any other animals the first year. DON’T GET HORSES IF YOU WANT TO SAVE MONEY. Unless you’re using them as a plow horse or a cow horse, horses are pets and are not really part of a farm. They eat your money and poop out vet bills.
5. Recordkeeping is absolutely necessary
Sadly the simple life still involves bureaucracy and paperwork. This is an area I truly suck in. You need to keep records, you need to write down birth dates, manage pedigrees, take notes on behavior, weight gain, plant growth, bee behavior. Good farmers keep records. I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you.
Budgeting and taxes
You need to budget and get friendly with Excel or Numbers. You need to know what you’re going to make and what you’re going to spend it on, you need to have goals and a vision and mission statement. Even a small personal homestead needs these things or you’re going to struggle. A large homestead like ours will drown without it and because I suck at record keeping believe me I am speaking from experience.
I highly suggest getting the book Profit First and implementing their plan for budgeting. It’s what I have finally used and it’s made an enormous difference to the financial life of our farm.
Improvement and reference
The best part of record keeping is being able to look at what you did last year and know what to do now. When do the grapes need to be harvested? Look it up in your notebook. Hmmm, the bees are acting funny, when did they do that before? Oh right, last June they swarmed and did this. Which month worked the best for planting tomatoes? Look it up. See how valuable record keeping can be?
You are going to fail
The harshest truth about homesteading is that you are going to fail. Over and over and over again. Farming is hard.
Animals are going to die and many times it’s because you did something stupid that you knew you shouldn’t have done. I once let a big water trough in with my turkeys and as I walked away I thought to myself ‘I should take that trough out of there.’ Then I thought nah it will be ok. The next morning, six drowned turkeys.
Other times you do everything you can and animals still die. I swear some are suicidal. Predators are actively trying to destroy everything you work for and wild birds are like little kamikaze pilots that you never know when they’ll bring in a disease.
Things are always going wrong.
Learn from it and improve
Every time something goes wrong on the homestead, you learn from it (take notes about it) and you get better. I have hardly any animals die anymore from my own stupidity. I make a lot less mistakes, but it’s only because I have made so many in the past and I have learned from them.
Prepare for it
Prepare for failure. Prepare yourself mentally or it can break you. I’ve gone out to a pen where a bobcat killed 30 birds in a night and broken down asking why I decided to do something as stupid as homesteading. The reality though is this is what homesteading is. It’s a constant fight against the forces of nature, which includes death and destruction. If you have the thought that something could go wrong, it probably will go wrong. Just assume failure will happen and try to fix it before it actually does.
7. People will think you’re nuts
I haven’t gotten much backlash from people for choosing this way of life. I’ve found that most people admire and desire to live such a way, at least in my area. HOWEVER, I have heard stories from other people where those around them think they are absolutely crazy for choosing to live this way.
Some people give up really lucrative jobs in order to homestead. I got a doctorate and then chose to live this way and people find it really surprising. Because I have a multigenerational homestead where my mom and grandma live here, I’ve had many people think that I’m mooching off them. I just ask my mom where she got the filet mignon she ate the night before and she points to me and my cow raising skills.
They’re actually nuts
One thing you have to remember is you are not nuts for living this way, they’re nuts for not living this way. A century or so ago, 90% of America’s population lived on a farm and I will be so bold as to say that the world’s mental health as well as physical health has continuously disintegrated since people moved to cities.
Homesteading and farming are amazing lifestyles. No matter how you live there are going to be difficulties and hardships, but people were designed to live on a farm connected to nature. How could you possibly be nuts for wanting to live the happiest life possible?
Don’t get mad, evangelize
Instead of being mad at people for thinking what they do, take the opportunity to educate them. Invite them out to your little farm and teach them how to milk a goat or relax around a fire with them. I always suggest to people that they keep their homestead tidy and try to add a few luxuries such as benches to sit on or flowers in their vegetable garden. It makes the homesteader’s life more pleasant and is also a testament to how nice the life of a homestead truly is.
The truth is that homesteading or farming is really really really hard. Things go wrong and it can be absolutely miserable. The other truth is that homesteading or farming is really really really wonderful. It’s a fantastic way to live and I’m way happier living this hard life than I ever would have been in a typical 9 to 5 job.