homesteading

“Trust” in the New Year || and a 2017 recap

I had one of the most interesting years of my life in 2017. The year was full of every kind of craziness—success, excitement, frustration, fear, anxiety, joy, grief, and love. It was a whirlwind of emotions all wrapped tightly into a package, then dropped into my lap at the end of the year so that I can finally unwrap it and, in return, wrap my head around it all.

I expect 2018 to be equally as crazy, but maybe in different ways.
Each and every year I choose a word that I feel God is allowing to stir around inside of me. My 2017 word was “shift”, and my goodness, did my life shift in 2017, in big and major ways.
Here’s how…

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10 Ways to Make Money on Your Homestead

Man, I love this farming lifestyle. If it were up to me, I’d have some huge ranch and make lots of money and live happily ever after…doing what I love. But then reality slaps me upside the head like a wet fish out of water, and I remember that homesteading and farming aren’t cheap, and it’s certainly not free. There is no endless supply of feed and “dolla-dolla bills, ya’ll” rolling into my hands. Don’t think too hard about that dolla bill reference.
So, we must find ways to make money to feed our homesteading habit.
Mind blown, I know. The entire romanticism around farmsteading is just crazy. While it truly is a romantic lifestyle (really, it is!), it’s not always easy on the pocket.
For this very reason, homesteaders try to find ways to offset costs and make money off of their lifestyle. In fact, there are many homesteaders who actually farm and homestead for a living, and it’s absolutely possible.
But how? Let’s go through some of the top 10 ways that you can make money, efficiently, off of your homestead, all while doing the things you love to do.

Keeping in mind that each homestead is different and has different limitations, you may need to expand or decrease your homestead, based on your needs and limitations. If you live on an acre, some of these won’t work for you. But many of these options still can. In the same respect, you can absolutely take on too much, depending on your age and health conditions, in which case, you may actually save more money by doing less, than more.
Through it all, always remember to be kind to yourself. Work within your limitations and remember to keep things simple. The minute it becomes overwhelming, take a step back and re-prioritize.
Otherwise, here are some top ways you can make a decent amount of money—through hard work and diligence—on your homestead.

 

Egg Sales

Every homestead has eggs. Or, most do, at least. Some of us have just 6 eggs a day, other’s get hundreds. Depending on your space and needs, you can make quite a bit of money off of egg sales. You certainly won’t get rich, but you’ll make enough to cover the cost of feed, and it opens an entirely new door to a group of people that may be willing to buy other homestead products from you, like jams, produce, homemade goods, and meat.

How do you run a successful egg business? Well, there are some things to consider. You’ll first need to do your research on your local market. Some rural areas are already saturated with egg sales, but here are a few ways you can be successful.

Start With the Eggs
 

Your eggs must be clean and beautiful if you plan on attracting customers. Believe it or not, your average customer that will purchase a dozen eggs for $5 isn’t going to be a farmer. It may be someone who is in to homesteading and living a more natural life, but they certainly aren’t farmers. They will want clean and pretty eggs. In fact, I’ve had people tell me straight to my face that they don’t want white eggs because they aren’t as “good” as brown and colored eggs. There’s not much you can do about the falsities that run a muck, but you can offer quality products to your customers either way.

Also, keep in mind that most states require you wash and refrigerate your eggs. There is also a limit to the amount of eggs you can sell in certain states before you require a permit.

Next Comes the Packaging
 

Packaging your eggs in fresh, new cartons with a label will help customers feel like they’re special. Tie a piece of twine around it with a sprig of rosemary, and you’ve really got yourself a prize winner, there! People like to feel special. When they feel like they are getting an impeccable product that others rarely get, they will continue to buy it. It also helps with branding your business.

Here are some products to consider to help you:

 

  • SubstationPaperie egg carton stamps and labels (shown above)
  • Brown blank egg cartons  — it’s always best to use brand new cartons for each sale, but I do reuse most of my lightly used cartons over and over again.
  • Mini Egg Stamp — this stamp is super cute to put on one of the eggs in the center of your carton.
  • Fresh herbs and twine — because adding extra love really helps your customer feel special

Knowing & Choosing Your Egg Market

Who are you going to sell these eggs to now that they are all prettied up? Choosing and knowing your market is going to be your best marketing strategy through it all. If you’re just selling to common friends, family, and a few co-workers, you could probably skip the prettifying stage. However, if you’re looking for hardcore customers,  you’re going to have to travel into the city once a week, every other week, or once a month. You can also tag team city farmer’s markets with a friend, or add on to a farmer already going to market and just commission them to sell your eggs for you.

Here are ways to do exactly that —

  • Sell eggs to your family, friends, and co-workers: This is just plain common sense. You already see them and spend time with them, they are your first immediate plan of action to sell your eggs.
  • Understand that your market are city folk:  while your rural friends will buy eggs from you too, especially the Mayberry friends, most of your egg sales will only bring in money if you market to city people. This is where the prettifying comes in.
  • Place your eggs on local farm sale websites: Social media, local newspapers, online groups and forums are all great places to market your eggs.
  • Tag team a farmers market with a friend: or a farmer that’s already going. Chances are, they will gladly take your eggs for you at their table. Barter with eggs or other homestead items in return, or offer to go watch his stand once a month, and you’ve got yourself a sweet set up.

Livestock Breeding + Selling

I truly love breeding livestock to conformation, standard, or just for good health and meat production. There’s something about bettering a breed that really takes hold of me and makes me excited. This is what we love doing on our homestead, and what we hope to do more extensively in the near future.

Whether it’s rare or sought after chicken breeds, jersey cows, Nigerian dwarf milk goats, or meat rabbits—if you have livestock, you have a potential business.

This portion of homestead money-making can be a money drainer when you first get started. In order to offer quality livestock, you must have quality livestock. Let me give you an example.

When we first got started in meat rabbits, I wanted a breed that I could not only eat, but that I could sell well. This is why I chose the Standard Rex rabbit. I sought out good quality, pedigreed rabbits from meat and show lines. I raised them, bred them, and held back the best of the best, and sold the others off (or send them to freezer camp).

After my first year of breeding, I had quality rabbits of my own to sell—selling pedigreed rabbits for $85 to $100 each. This seemed outrageous to me, but it wasn’t at all outrageous considering the breed was hard to find in most states.

However, I spent well over $300-$400 on my breeding stock.

Read that again. Because it’s not cheap…yo.

The larger the livestock, the more expensive they will be. But if you are serious about it, and you are willing to make the investment, you will certainly come out on top in the end.

It was a win-win with us on the rabbits, because what we didn’t sell, we could eat. Plain and simple!

The same went for us when we decided to sell hatching eggs and chicks. We chose quality breeds, kept healthy birds, and were able to make a decent amount of income.

 

 

Milk Shares

Sharing your extra milk, whether it’s from a cow or a goat, is a great way to make an income on your homestead. You’ll make the most efficient money from a Jersey cow, more than likely. Two Jersey cows will give you more than enough for multiple milk shares, and you can take turns drying off cows as needed.
Keep in mind that there are hoops you’ll need to jump through according to your state. Some states allow the sale of raw milk, other states require you to have a milk share in place. This simply means that customers sign a contract and give you a one time deposit for a portion of the cows sale price. This means they technically “own” a portion of the cow. This price also goes toward feed, production, etc.
You then, in return, offer them a gallon of milk for your set price each week—typically between $8 and $15, it truly just depends on the farm and location. The most common price seems to be between $8 and $12. Customers can buy more than one gallon a week, the price will still be per gallon.
Here are some things to consider:
  • Store your milk in sterilized half gallon mason jars for your customers—making sure they have plastic screw on lids, not the canning lids.
  • Have a set time for customers to pick up each week—this way people aren’t in the way of each other all at one time, you can set up different days and times for them to come and pick up every week.
  • Store your milk in its own refrigerator. This will make it so much easier on you to keep track of. This is also great if you choose to put the fridge in a garage or barn where your customers can just walk in, leave the money, and take their milk. You’ll get to know most of your customers this well, I promise.
  • Make it a point to let them know far in advance when you’ll be drying off a cow. Most of your customers will understand, but some customers may need the milk for health reasons.

Sell Meat: Chickens, Beef, & More

With the scurry of the independent homesteading movement, meat is a brand new thing that homesteaders and farmers are offering to the general public. Actually, the market in many places is already completely saturated with farmers offering grass-fed beef, pasture raised chicken, and even quail and rabbit. But don’t let that discourage you just yet.

When you have multiple things and products on a homestead, especially if you’re already selling eggs and dairy, you now have a market base. You have people that already trust you and your product, and this is how you’ll begin to reel them in with the larger products, like meat.

Keep in mind, however, that this isn’t just about making money—this is about helping people change their lives and live a better lifestyle.

Whatever meat you choose to sell, make sure you’re abiding by the guidelines in your state. For most states you can sell small livestock, like chicken and rabbit, with limitations on how much you can sell.

With larger livestock, they must be processed in an FDA certified facility.

There are two main ways to sell meat—

Process the meat, pay for it (if done at a facility), and then sell to markets, stores, and directly to the customer either with meat shares (quarter, half, whole) or portioned out meat.

The second way is to simply sell the meat before butcher. This is best for larger livestock. The customer would put a deposit down on the portion of the cow they want (quarter, half, or whole). Then they would pay you per pound on final hanging weight, and then pay the butcher directly for the butcher fees.

Homemade Goods + Products

You’re a homesteader, which means you have talents beyond belief. Maybe you make soaps or knit hats. Or maybe you have honey to sell from your bee hives. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to mesh it all together with the other services and products you can offer from your homestead.

Be sure to market during the proper times of year, and offering a quality product will set you out from the rest. Start an Etsy shop, or a website where you can sell your products. And network with local groups, events, and farmers.

You can also sell products like essential oils or other products through companies that you love. I love selling my essential oils—they pay for the cost of the oils and the livestock feed every month! If not more.

Again, you can also consider selling things like canned goods, breads, and yummy goodies that you make at home with your loving hands!

Handyman Services + Skills

This one is mostly for the fellas, though I know some ladies that have awesome handyman skills too.
For people like my husband, it’s easy for him to say “let me cut your grass, do your landscaping, build that deck, put that fence up…” He’s just skilled beyond belief. And you might be too! Use those skills to your advantage, and you  may just get enough work to start a side business.
Here are some things to consider offering if you have the skills:
 
Landscaping & Mowing
Basic Handyman Skills (electrical, carpentry, fixing things)
Fence Building
Deck and Patio Building
Fall Clean Up
Garden Prepping
Tree Services
Mulch/Wood Chip Hauling and Spreading
Wood Cutting and Hauling
Heavy Lifting
…and so much more!

Sell Plants + Produce

Enough said.

When you begin your new season of planting, and you have all of these extra plants that you don’t know what to do with—don’t toss them to the side or force them into the ground….sell them!

In fact, many homesteaders purposefully plant extra plants just to sell each spring. This is a fabulous way to market organic, non-gmo, or home grown and raised plants to gardeners in the Spring. There is especially a market for herbs!

Make + Sell Herbal Remedies

As an herbal homesteader, I tend to have a lot of herbs on hand at all times. In the winter months, I’m constantly creating some type of concoction for a family member or friend. One year, I posted my Elderberry Syrup recipe on a local social media group and told members that I was getting ready to make a batch if they wanted to buy a bottle. I made over $200 that weekend alone. Call me crazy, but I think I was on to something!

If you’re into herbal remedies, try making salves, lotions, syrups, tinctures, and more. Sell them locally within your community, or even only in your Etsy shop or on your website. Just make sure you label them properly to protect yourself.

 

Boarding + Pet Sitting

If you have an extra field, paddock, or extra room in your home, boarding farm animals and regular pet sitting are all options for you on your homestead. You already have a farm, what’s a few more animals? This might even be your way to get your “new animal” fix without ever actually getting a new animal of your own.

Set standards in place and put things in order so that your market knows you aren’t just there to be at their every beckon call. Setting a standard makes people understand that you’re organized, and the real deal. And that you take pride in your work.

Teach Other People

I think every homesteader has a desire to teach others, and that’s a fabulous thing. We often like to say that we hate charging for this knowledge, but sometimes,  you just have to. Your time and energy is just as precious as any other teacher in the world, and you’re offering information that is invaluable to others. They want to learn, so why not teach?
You can do this many ways: starting a blog, maintaining a youtube channel with tutorials and vlogs, or by hosting classes on your homestead or through your local extension office.
You can also teach through webinars and may even be able to create courses, ebooks, and published books as you excel in your teaching ability.
Whatever it is, never treat it like a job. There is a satisfaction that comes from teaching and sharing knowledge. Watching people’s eyes light up, knowing that they just learned something new and amazing that can help them take control of their lives—it’s priceless.
While you’re teaching, consider adding Affiliate Advertising (like Amazon, Google Ads, and more) to your website and other online outlets. People can click on these links (much like the ones on this blog), and you receive a commission for the amount of times that the ad as been clicked or bought. This is at absolutely no cost to the customer or student, it’s just a great way for you to support your farmstead while teaching others!
There are plenty of ways to make money on, and off, your homestead and farm. These opportunities present themselves often, and if you’ll simply take note, you  may just see a need in your community that you can offer directly from your homestead.
There is absolutely no guilt in selling product or items from your homestead. In fact, it is the American way. Our ancestors did it as their full time jobs…and by golly, I think it’s time to bring it back.

What Happens When I Fail at Homesteading?

We’ve been on this homesteading journey for a few years now. And let me just say, I have failed more times than I can count. In fact, I’ve just stopped counting for the sake of my sanity. It’s moments like these when I tell myself that the good Lord forgets all of my failures, so I should too.
During my first few years here, I failed a lot. I failed at eating healthy (I still do). I failed at keeping chickens healthy. I failed at homemaking. I failed at being a good mom. And I massively failed at gardening. Thank goodness for grace.
What happens when people fail? What happens when I fail? It’s probably one of the major reasons why people don’t start living a healthier lifestyle or start their own farm journey. Failure…it’s a scary thing.

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Homesteading; It Takes a Village

The new “self”-sufficiency movement has taken over the country and the world. From state to state, continent to continent, the word “self-sufficiency” and “homesteader” are now common terms that most people have heard at some point or another. The question, however, is often asked — What is a Homesteader? or What is the definition of self-sufficient?
 
When in reality, I think the question should really be, What’s the Process of Becoming These Things?
 
In fact, looking back through history, you might be surprised to realize that “self”sufficiency wasn’t really even popular unless you were mountain folk. And even then, it still didn’t mean what you think it did. Quite often, it wasn’t “self” at all. Homesteading?…..it took a village. It took a community. Or at least a few families.
You can open any history book and learn about living off the land. In fact, the term “self-sufficiency” is a more modern term that people use. Often times, people think it means completely relying on yourself for all of your needs, but when we think about it, how contradictory is that to history? If you’re a Christian, it’s absolutely contradictory to the Bible. I think we simply keep shooting ourselves in the foot when we understand self-sufficiency to mean that we’d never have to depend on someone else for our needs. Preposterous!

Throughout history, villages, towns, tribes, and families depended on one another to make it through life. Just take a look at our ancestors from the Great Depression. The ones who survived? They made it through because it literally took a village.

While their lives weren’t necessarily at the mercy of another person’s grip (that’s a fabulous visual of self-sufficiency), they did have to barter, trade, and work with one another in order to share harvests and to have certain things that they needed or couldn’t grow on their own land.

Just as society is now, they all had different gifts and talents to offer, different things that grew better on their land, while also having some knowledge of the same skill sets that they were born with (knowing how to wild forage, for example). Some people had more land than others, therefore growing more to sell and trade with their community. While others were dealt cards in life that left them in difficult situations, causing them to have to live within the community or city completely—working for their living, with little space to garden or raise animals.

Locals gather on the porch of the post office in the small town of Nethers in Madison County, VA 1935. || Arthur Rothstein / Library of Congress LC-DIG-fsa-8b26683

Life isn’t much different now.

I could live on 10 acres of land, but I may not have the time to grow enough wheat for my family each year. The beauty of that is that I can go to the store to buy wheat, or, I can depend on a fellow homesteader or farmer who does have the time and space to grow enough wheat, and then some. Or, maybe my neighbor grows a garden and wild forages, she preserves her food and she’s good for the winter. But maybe she doesn’t have the ability to harvest meat or eggs from her homestead. Well then, come right on over, I’ve got you covered! We can barter with eggs and meat for sacks of flour or wheat.

It doesn’t mean I’m mooching off of someone or being lazy—it means that I’m leaning on my community, and guess what, my community leans on me too. That’s the beauty of it all.

The Dodson family at home in the small community of Old Rag in Page County VA before they were relocated, 1935 || Arthur Rothstein / Library of Congress LC-USF34-T01-000541

Homesteading and self-sufficiency were never terms that were used to isolate. If you isolate yourself completely, you may not survive. You may survive for an amount of time, but what about when you get sick or need a doctor? Or at least someone that can help you recuperate. What happens when a drought hits and you can’t grow anything? What happens when you’re in the dead of winter and you run out of lard or butter? What happens when your milk cow or goat dries up and your baby is crying and you need that milk? I highly doubt most people would throw their hands up and say, “well, I’ll just deal with it.” No, indeed. They would lean on their fellow man for help, as long as they aren’t too prideful.

You could rely on a food stashed pantry or the likes thereof, but even then, you still need something from someone, even if it’s just community. And eventually, that pantry runs dry.

Certainly, there are exceptions. There are those people who go missing and live in the wild for decades on their own. There are mountain men who you never see. But is that really realistic for millions of people who want to start homesteading? Probably not.

Young farm boys cradling wheat on a farm near Sperryville in Rappahannock County, VA 1936. || Dorothea Lange / Library of Congress LC-USF34-009368

The moral of the story is, homesteading does, indeed, take a village. It takes hands that are willing to work, not just to survive on their own, but for others as well. Whether that looks like going to the store, patronizing your local farmer or homesteader, raising more than you need to help others, lending a helping hand during harvest, bartering for goods and services, or living in a community of like minded individuals.

When you begin your journey into homesteading, or to live a more self-sufficient lifestyle, going into this realizing that it’s ok to buy goods from the farmer’s market or your local farmer is completely liberating. Knowing that you can’t grow everything on your homestead, unless you take up being a vegetarian and veganism, or you change your diet to consume things seasonally (which is possible), is liberating. Maybe you’ll have to buy flour, wheat, oil, medical supplies, paper products, rags, clothing, gasoline. It could be any number of things. Big or small. But at some point, you’re going to have to have to step off your property and barter or buy something from someone. Or maybe you’ll be the one offering help.

That’s why we were put here, after all. To help, to grow, to learn.

The number one reason people stop homesteading is because they’ve been given a false reality that they have to do it all. But in a westernized culture, getting back to our roots overnight isn’t a possible task. It takes years, decades, centuries. We’ve lost entire generations that knew how to do this, and yet they still took the time to dress up and go into town to chew the fat with their neighbors and towns people on the front porch of an Old Country Store, or to buy a sack of wheat. Boys who’d run through fields without shoes on, yes, without shoes on—they are rare to find now days. We’ve lost children who are respectful and who know the meaning of hard work before they are 5. We’ve lost men who want to work hard, get their hands dirty, and provide for their families. They’ve forgotten how to hunt and fish. And we’ve lost women who know that being in the kitchen and the garden or field isn’t oppressive, but necessary, and rewarding, and full of satisfaction.

In order to get back to our roots, we’re all learning together. We’re learning from each other, from our ancestors, from history books—and we all bring something to the table in talent, skill, and growth.

Don’t lose out on that. Don’t isolate yourself because that’s what you think you’re “supposed” to do. Because I assure you, you’ll miss out on so much goodness and education from your community. And one day,  you just may have to call on them when you’re in need.

More than anything, however, is that we’re leaving behind a legacy for future generations. Let’s not teach them that they have to isolate themselves in order to do it the “right” way.

 

For more Great Depression photos and stories from my area of Virginia, click here

 

Our Homestead Management Binder

I am a planner by nature, but implementing my plans is a completely different story. As the new year comes closer, one of my top goals is to be more organized in the new year. After all, I’m planning a huge homesteading conference in October—I better be prepared and well planned! Taking on such a huge task, however, has shown me how much more I need to be organized on my homestead. And being organized is simply not my strong point in life.
When my husband asks me “how much did we harvest this year” or “how much money did we spend on the chickens”, I literally look at him with a blank stare all while thinking did you really think I kept up with that?! I’m horrible. I could throw a number off my head, but I’d probably be hundreds of dollars off….in both directions. I can tell you the initial start up cost of our homestead, and that’s about it. The yearly stuff? I’m just wingin’ it!
You can see my dilemma. My first issue is telling myself I simply don’t have the time to keep track. But the reality is that if I want a successful homestead that isn’t a money pit, I need to keep track of all of our expenses, what we’ve bought and sold, how many eggs we’ve collected in one year versus chicken feed, how many rabbits we processed, and more. Convincing myself that it only takes 3 extra minutes out of my entire day has proven to be daunting.

 

So this year I stumbled across some pretty spectacular printables through Reformation Acres, another fellow homesteader. You can find the printables by clicking here. These things are going to be a life saver for me. Not only that, but it eased me into creating a Homestead Management binder—say what!? Mama is really getting organized now! I bought a cheap binder from the dollar store, no need to get fancy. Or you can find them on Amazon.
Within the binder, I can house all of my homesteading and gardening information in one place. I have the printables, and then I have my calendar planner, garden planner, almanac (because I can never find it when I need it), incubation schedule/chart, and so much more.
The printables themselves include a seed starting excel spreadsheet that you can personalize on your computer and then print out for your binder. I did do this last year, and it was a real life saver. I was a much more efficient gardener when my seeds were started indoors on time, and I planted and rotated crops properly.
I’m also taking seed inventory from last year’s harvests and whatever I had left over from previous years. I quickly found that I have an entire seed inventory page of onlytomatoes. Yeah, I think we’re good on tomatoes this year! The issue is that, because I didn’t take a seed inventory each year, I found that I would simply buy the same seeds over and over again. Now I’m stuck with 20 packages of tomato seeds. I think I’ll share some with friends! It also caused me to see which seed packages will soon be out of date, or are already out of date.
Each year my husband and I have the argument of our chickens being more “free loading” than the year before. He loves the chickens all year, until they stop laying, and then he says “get rid of them all!” I always chuckle, because he doesn’t mean it, he’s just bitter about not having his golden yolked eggs each day. Because of this, my new year organization binder will also house a handy dandy egg tally chart. This will be fun for our son, who has recently taken over most of the homestead chores on a daily basis. He can collect the eggs, open the binder, and mark down how many eggs we received that day. At the end of the year we can tally them up. We can also look back the following year to see the patterns of our chickens. What did we feed them to get more egg production in the winter? When did they go into a molt? Was their molt hard or mild?
There are other great options in the binder as well, like dairy production, pantry inventory, freezer inventory, and year end cost analysis. It will also allow me to keep track of our rabbitry—breeding, raising, and butchering.
Besides the binder, we are enjoying a simplified homestead. But we have great plans to expand the garden this year, and expand our chickens as well. We’ll also be expanding our quail flock, which requires us to build more habitats. It will be interesting to keep track of cost analysis at the end of the year. How much money did we reallyspend on simple living?
 So, the plan is, to keep up with the plan. We’ll see how this pans out. But I am feeling pretty darn good about 2017 being my year of organization. And it starts with our homestead! I know that there will be much satisfaction when I can look in my binder next December and say, “wow, we canned 25 quarts of applesauce this year”, or to look back and learn from our mistakes, learn from our animals, and learn from the weather and our garden. Not only that, but it projects us into growth and knowledge for the year afterwards as well.
This homesteading journey is more than just a daily task to accomplish. It is slowly teaching us how to maintain life and to learn skillsets that our generations have long forgotten. I would like to believe that simple living is still somewhere embedded in our DNA, it just needs a little water and fertilizer in which to grow. Even if that means I have to create a homestead management binder just to keep up with it all.
Wishing you a beautiful and prosperous New Year—from our homestead, to yours!

Inexpensive Photography Backdrops & Tips for Homestead Bloggers

Over ten years ago, I began my blogging journey. In the beginning, it was just words. I allowed words to flow out of me and used stock photos if I needed them. Sometimes, I didn’t even use photos. The people who read blogs back then were people who simply enjoyed reading—with or without photos. They were people who enjoyed connecting with pleasant words and stories, like on the pages of a novel. But fast forwarding to today, now days, you have to be a photographer in order to have a successful blog—or at least take exceptionally good cell phone photos.

Seeing as I’m a professional photographer, this isn’t an issue for me. Though sometimes, it can be frustrating to have to break out the “real” camera. Even so, I still need inexpensive ways to make my photos look great.

As a homesteader, we try to be self-sufficient and recycle whatever we can. The same goes for our blogs and photos. No one wants to see a photo of your freshly made perfect pie on a dark dirty oven top caked in flour remnants and last nights dinner. I mean, I do, because that’s real life, but if you want to get any actual “hits” on the post, you better clean up and tighten up that lighting! As a homesteader, who the heck has time to do that? You just want to throw down a backdrop over top of it all or in front of a window, and let the world think your house is in order when it’s really dirty as all get out.

Yep, you know it. I said it. Amen.
As a photographer and homesteader, I’ve found some pretty cost effective and beautiful backdrops to use over the past few years, and I decided I’d share some of them with you!

Use What You Have

One of your greatest assets is that you’re a homesteader. This means you have all kinds of junk laying around. You probably have some old barn wood pieces, some clean flour cloth dish towels, or maybe some antique wooden crates.
That’s what I used in the two photos above. Just two old wooden crates, side by side, in the first photos. The first (main) photo will actually be the photo wrap for my upcoming cookbook. In the second photo, I used two different crates, and stacked one behind the other. You can find these super cool brew or kombucha bottles here.
Here are some of the things that I typically have laying around that I use the most.
  • wooden crates
  • barn wood or wood remnants
  • Flour Sack Dish Towels
  • Vintage Dish Towels
  • antique plates (ex: blue willow)
  • my tile floor in my kitchen
  • old baking sheet
  • your own wood flooring in your home
  • my deck and/or stairs (wood)
You can spice things up by adding herbs, branches, leaves, berries, and more—scattered about.

Purchasing Inexpensive Backdrops

If what you have laying around doesn’t work for you, then you can purchase inexpensive, and multi-use, backdrops from your local hardware or specialty store. One of my favorite things to use, as seen above, are scatter rugs. You can purchase different types and colors of scatter rugs very inexpensively at your local big chain hardware store such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. I purchased the above rug for less than $6 on sale. So, I bought two! They are thick and durable, and easy to clean.
Another option, along the same lines as the scatter rug, are table runners. Table runners are a dime a dozen during the holidays. You can get some pretty exceptional runners on clearance after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Actually, I bought the table runner in the photo above out of the $1 bin at Target this year. It allows you to add dimension, be it on a wooden kitchen table, or on a different kind of backdrop.
Here are some item’s I’ve purchased inexpensively to use as backdrops.
  • Burlap (from your local craft store or online)
  • Cheese cloth
  • Scatter Rugs
  • Slate pieces
  • Bricks

Lighting, Editing, and Camera Equipment

While backdrops are inexpensive and fabulous, they won’t make a bit of difference if you don’t have some knowledge of lighting. And if you’re looking for a true pro look, you may even need to invest in some camera equipment. If you already have a DSLR camera (or are thinking about investing in one), this section is for you.
When taking a photo, I always use natural light. I have never had to use artificial lighting in any of my photos. Ever. Not once.
I accomplish this by taking all of my photos next to a large window where lots of light comes through. If the light is too much, you can drape a white sheet over it, as I did in this photo above. This creates an illuminating effect, and produces beautiful shadows. There is a common misconception that your product or subject in the photo has to be fully illuminated, and that’s just not true. The best photos have depth, and shadows are necessary. In the photo above, the window is off to the side, which creates shadows for the eggs and other food. Drawing your focus in on the center of the photo.
You can also note the depth of field is very shallow. For people who aren’t photographers — “that blurry stuff there in the background.” Most people want to learn how to create a depth of field, meaning having the focus on one thing, while all other things begin to blur out. This is naturally created through the camera lens. You can manually create it while editing, but the effect is not the same, as it creates no depth, just focus.
Your next important step is editing. Many people enjoy editing through free photo editing apps and programs. But if you’re serious about your photos, I highly suggest investing into Photoshop Elements. It is not nearly as expensive as other photoshop programs, and it is a one time fee. You can even find an older version—I use version 10 often, simply because I’ve never upgraded.
I would also encourage you to shoot in RAW with your DSLR instead of jpg if you plan to edit your photos. It allows you to easily manipulate the lighting and doesn’t compress the photo as bad as a jpg. And I would also encourage you to learn out to shoot in manual mode, allowing you to focus where you want to focus, and more.
Here are some equipment recommendations.
Ultimately, making sure that your lighting is correct, and that your backdrop is pretty or interesting—creating depth with layers—are the two key components you need to a beautiful homestead blog photo. If you can nail those, you’re on a pretty good path to becoming a little more involved in your photo taking skills for your blog!
Enjoy the little things, and remember every now and then to show the real mess in the midst of the pretty. Because, while beautiful photos get lots of traffic on websites, being raw and real every now and then gets even more.

What is a Homestead and Homesteader? | And the unnecessary title wars

I was sitting with my grandmother a few weeks back, and because of the simple fact that we own small livestock, she is always asking how the chickens are…any new rabbit babies…how about the bear, is he back? I always chuckle, because it seems to be the first thing she brings up when I walk through the door. She’ll proceed to tell me about raising quail, chickens, her mama whacking chickens over the head and sticking them in the pot for dinner. She’ll tell me about her daddy getting attacked by a bob-cat when he went to close the animals up one night. Or how they lived simply—though, it was normal for them back then. It wasn’t called “simple living” or anything like that. However, she will often refer to her home where she grew up as “the ol’ homestead”.

Homestead: a house, especially a farmhouse, and outbuildings.

That is the very first definition of “homestead” in the Websters dictionary. The next definition is a law. The definition after that is a tax exempt property. And the next definition after that is a cluster of villages where a family resides in community.
Did it mention animals? Did it mention tractors? Did it mention how many times a day you had to bake bread or make a home cooked meal? Did it mention how you should or shouldn’t do something? Did it mention whether or not you’re really doing what you say you’re doing?
I don’t think so. At least, I didn’t read that part. In fact, the definition of “homesteader” is simply “someone who owns/holds a homestead”.
I didn’t read the part where it said if you don’t have a milk cow, three goats, one hundred chickens, and over 10 acres of land, that you can’t use the word “homestead” or call yourself a “homesteader”. Apparently I missed that part…and so did my ancestors. 
My grandparents are in their ’80s, and they’ve always had old souls. Whenever I hear my grandma talk about “the ol’ homestead”, I never hear mention of a cow. My grandfather was raised on a cattle farm, and still raises them to this day. Two drastically different properties, yet, they were both homesteading souls. I never heard her mention of how much or how little they did—with the exception of those “I had to walk to school in 20 ft of snow” stories. Why? Because they just did it. They didn’t have an audience. They didn’t have google ads to bring in money off YouTube videos. They didn’t have Facebook to brag about how hard they worked that day or how much they are doing on their homestead. They didn’t have cell phones or tv’s or anything like that. They actually lived a simple life because that’s just what they did. Many times, never having a choice.
In today’s modern society and homesteading community, we often like to define labels and titles. When in reality, the people who grew up submerged in the environment of farming and homesteading, they don’t really give a rats you know what about titles and labels. They are what they are, and what they’ve always been. When you question them, they kind of give you a blank stare and just move along. There’s no time to fight about useless titles. But rest assure, they will laugh at you later. It’s all harmless, but honestly, people who live it just don’t understand all the hype.
I recently read a post by A Farmish Kind of Life, and it truly hit home and inspired me to remember my roots. It’s something I talk about often, and the only people who ever agree with me or can sympathize with me are the people who actually live this life on a regular basis and grew up around it.
I saw this same post on another friend’s FB page, with a comment beneath it that said,

“I think people that don’t grow up in this environment are the ones that think about the hardships and the work…where those who have been around it our whole lives just view it as our normal life with no defining title attached.”

There is so much truth in that little sentence. I would even take it a step farther and say that we do understand the hard work, most certainly, but we simply don’t glorify it. Actually, I understand the hard work, and I didn’t even really do it as a child. I watched, I participated when I was needed in the Summer months, or that time when my Uncle taught me how to drive a tractor when he collected hay bales before a Summer storm. I knew the value of this lifestyle long before doing it myself, because I had the greatest mentors of all time—at least, my lifetime.

my grandfather cutting one of his fields

 

It’s life. It’s normal. It’s everyday living for so many people who don’t even have a self-appointed title for themselves. Don’t be entangled in the mindset of what the definition of a “homesteader” or “off grider” or “prepper” or “southerner” or “crunchy” person may be to others. It doesn’t matter. Really. If no one has said this to you, let it be me who says it straight to your heart. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you. It doesn’t matter what other people think of what you do. It doesn’t matter whether they think you do too much on your “homestead”, or too little. Are they with you everyday of your life? No? Then it doesn’t matter. That’s not how this works…that’s not how any of this works.

When did we become so concerned with how people who sit behind a computer screen view us?

There is no “I know more than you” mentality with those who have been doing this their entire lives. Ever. Not once. In fact, most of the time, the people who’ve been doing this or have been around it their whole lives, they want to educate you in humility. They do it because they know the importance of it. They do it because it’s something they know that can be shared with anyone. They do it because this is their life, and if someone can learn from it, then they will share their experiences. They don’t try and persuade you into believing something just because they do, or in living the way they live. They know the value of community, friendship, and living a truly simple life. And even then, it’s not called a “simple life” for them…it’s simply called “living”.
I have been told I’m not a “homesteader”, because I don’t have a 3 acre garden, own a field full of large livestock, or even because I don’t show every single aspect of living here. I have been condemned for posting an artistic photo of three little carrots I pulled up out of the ground too soon—because, goodness me, I should be growing more than that (and yet, I was just weeding them out). Do you hear how silly that is? Do you hear how stupid that sounds? And if that makes me some kind of impostor, then so be it. But can I be honest for a second?
I don’t care…. 

I don’t walk into my local farm store and said “oh hey, yeah, I’m a homesteader.” Um, duh. That’s probably why you’re at the farm store. Do you know how ridiculous they’d look at me? I don’t care about the title. To be honest, I’m not a homesteader first and foremost. I’m a wife, a mom, a homemaker…who just so happens to wrangle chickens, too.

So if the “title” throws you off…remove it from the header. Just get to know me—our lives, our loves, our passions, our simplicity. If the “homestead” part causes you so much strife because it doesn’t fit into your box of a definition that’s contrary to American literature, then please, just act like it’s not there. It doesn’t define me as a person, I promise.

I will continue taking artistic photos of my food. What can I say, I like playing with it. I enjoy the beauty of deep earthy colors coming up from the soil.
I will continue to grow what I can grow and buy what I can’t grow. Because that’s what I’ve always done. Each year I grow a little more as I build and grow on our property.
I will continue to support my community and neighbors buy bartering and purchasing, educating and learning.
I will continue to raise chickens, quail, rabbits, ducks, children, dogs, and tend to my husband. Because that’s my life…this is what I do.
I am a homesteader. I am my own definition of one. Because the reality is that there is no proper definition. Certainly, within reason, you know the basics.
But whether you have less than me, or more than me, if you are a homesteader…then that’s what you are.
Maybe you live in a small house like us and you are trying to find places to grow and build. Or maybe you’re like friends of ours who manage over 600+ acres of farmland. Whatever you have, enjoy it. Enjoy the hell out of it. The mere fact that you live your life to the standard of no one else will cause those who are more concerned with titles than actually living this life to move along…right after they try and prove you wrong…of course…because that’s their number one goal anyway.
Love the simple life you live. No, no, better yet, just love this life. Whether it’s “simple”, “crunchy”, “minimalistic”, “homesteady”, or “preppy”. Love it. Because that’s all it is, folks…..life.
…. and I’ll be darned if someone is going to tell me I can’t live it the way I see fit for myself and my family. They didn’t allow it on “the ol’ homestead”, and goodness, I’m not allowing the entitlement of our society to tell me what the definition of my life is either.
Happy Homesteading, and happy living!!

Rabbit Care Basics for the Beginner

So you want to start your homestead rabbit journey, and you’re not sure where to begin. What do they eat? How much do they eat? What happens if they get sick? How do they live? While these things can all be elaborated on extensively, I’ll try to sum it up for you in a condensed version.
When you’re done here—or if you’re looking for something more in-depth—head over to our Rabbit page to learn more, and definitely check out the resources list at the end of this post. I’m also currently working on a homestead rabbit book, which I hope to  have completed and for sale next Spring (2017).
Whether you just purchased your rabbit herd, or you’re about to, there are some key rabbit care basics you’ll need to know.

Rabbit Housing

Some people choose to raise on pasture, while others choose to raise in hutches. Some, like us, even choose to do both. While our rabbits can’t be on pasture at all times, we do rotate them out. No matter the housing, you’ll need to make sure they are secure and safe from predators. Rabbits should also be out of direct sunlight, if at all possible, in the warmer months. In the cooler months, direct sunlight is fine. But make sure they have a shaded area where they can go inside of their hutch.
If you choose to do wire hutches that aren’t on pasture, I highly suggest investing in a floor mat that they can sit on should their feet ever get stressed from the wire. You can purchase them here, or you can simply put a small piece of plywood in their hutch.
Make sure all hutches are draft free in the winter months, as cold air can be detrimental to rabbits. You’ll also want to pack their hutches full of straw in the winter time.

Rabbit Feed

Rabbit feed, to me, is the most interesting part of raising rabbits. Also, don’t forget WATER. Rabbits need a constant supply of water. In the wintertime, this can be hard. We switch over to crocks rather than bottles, so that they can at least lick the ice.
The bulk of a rabbit’s diet should consist of some form of hay—ours love orchard grass. You can also give your rabbits alfalfa hay, but be careful not to over do it. Too much alfalfa means too much calcium. If you’re feeding them alfalfa hay, then they do not need a high calcium/protein pellet.
The next source of feed is raw food. If you choose to do a completely raw food diet, in addition to hay, each rabbit needs about one quart of raw food each day. This can be in the form of carrots, dark greens (such as kale), etc. Fruit can also be given as a treat, but not overly done as they have a lot of sugar in them.
You can raise your rabbits on pasture, but be warned, they will grow much slower on pasture without a pellet or hay supplement.
A rabbit pellet is the final option for rabbit feed. Choose a pellet that is high in protein if you are raising meat rabbits. Organic is best.
What about treats? Your rabbits don’t “need” treats, but we do supplement and add treats to feed, such as Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, and other various types of seeds. Because seeds are high in fat/oil, we give them in rations, as not to make the rabbits fat.
Herbal Additions — we also enjoy adding herbs to our rabbit’s regular diet. Thyme, oregano, rosemary, echinacea, cilantro, parsley, and just about any other herb you can find at the store. Please do your research to see which herbs rabbits can have. However, these I mentioned above are some of our favorites. While they are a tastey treat, they are also an incredible immunity booster.

Rabbit First Aid Kit

Inevitably, your rabbit will find itself in a predicament at some point in its life. Whether it’s a hurt paw, or something more dire like a respiratory issue, there are things to keep on hand so that you aren’t running around frantically trying to find something to help your ailing livestock.
We choose to treat holistically here on our homestead, so I’ll be listing what holistic treatments I keep on hand.
Vibactra Plus Immunity/Digestive Boost — We give this every few months for 3-5 days at a time. This helps boost immunity, aides in digestive issues, and helps cleanse the body of parasites.
Otalgia Drops for Ear Infection — Rabbits are prone to ear infections, and can sometimes get ear mites. Otalgia drops are a great option. If you don’t want to buy Otalgia drops; water, honey and essential oils also help.
Vibactra All Natural Antibiotic — If you’re raising meat rabbits, the last thing you want to do is treat it with antibiotics. That’s kind of why we got into raising meat rabbits, after all. To stay away from commercial treatments. This is a great, all natural option for antibiotics.
Essential Oils — I keep peppermint, oregano, and tea tree in my medicine kit at all times. Great for cuts and scraps (with a carrier oil). I purchase all of my EOs through doTERRA.
Diatomaceous Earth (food grade) — Add this to their feed every few days to help rid their digestive tract of any parasites.
Echinacea Leaves or Powder — Great immunity booster, but also another natural antibiotic treatment.
Other things like gauze pads, stitches, scissors, and wraps are also essential.

Play Time and Bonding

Each and every homestead is different. We all have different ways of raising animals, and as long as they are healthy and happy, that’s what matters.
Here on our homestead, we don’t have a lot of time to spend with the adult rabbits on a regular basis. However, whenever we have a brand new litter, we spend a lot of time with them the first 6-8 weeks of life. This is essential to a well behaved rabbit.
Giving your rabbits something to play with in the meantime is optional, but I believe you’ll find it more fun for them, and your own conscious. A small ball is a favorite here. Something as simply as a dollar store ball. Nothing bigger than them.
Ultimately, rabbits are fairly easy to take care of. I encourage you to check out these more in-depth blog posts of mine, as well as some videos, for more information on purchasing rabbits, breeds, housing, feed, and holistic treatment.

Other Resources:

Facing the Reality of Homestead Confiscation

Every morning I have the same routine. I wake up, pack my husband’s lunch, sometimes I’ll put on some coffee. I wash the dishes from the night before or from that morning. Some mornings if it’s super early, I’ll lay back down in bed and rest with my thoughts before the day begins. Other days, I jump right in head first. I let the animals out, get them fed and watered. I get online to see the latest “news”, sometimes I’ll flip it on the TV. It’s normally “the end of the world”, racism wars, child abuse, #alllivesmatter, celebrity divorces, and terrorism.
I turn it off just as quickly as I turned it on.
I grew up in a farming community. This “life” isn’t new to me. Believe it or not, I’m not a “newbie”. And I often laugh when people try to school me as if I’m uneducated. But I listen, because I’m a nice person. And believe it or not, I’m constantly learning. We never ever get to a point where we know it  all. Even the seasoned veterans can tell you that.
Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s growing up being submerged in it. But often, farm families would be informed of what was going on in the world, but then went on about their day like normal. They knew trials would come, things would happen. But they also knew they couldn’t do anything about it other than love, share abundance, and keep waking up every morning to do it all over again.
While my own homesteading journey only began recently, the knowledge I have gained over the past 20+ years has been retained. And do you know what that life taught me?
It taught me that no matter what’s happening in the world, animals still need fed. Vegetables still need planting. Beans still need picking and bread still needs baking. Neighbors still need you to drop in from time to time to check on them. The tractor will always break down, and so will your vehicle. Breakfast still needs making and dinner still needs prepping. And every morning, your family is still right there…right in front of you…waiting for you to speak. What will your words teach them? Will it teach them to live life to the fullest, or be scared of everyone around them?
Do you know that only in the last few decades have homesteaders and farmers become so “doom and gloom” all day every day. They certainly had their struggles, far worse than us. And yet, I feel they handled it far better than we are today. I blame the world of social media for the past 10 years. People feel comfortable behind their social media posts, but when it actually comes time to doing and saying what they put out there? That’s a different story.
This week a fairly “new” homesteader (friend) said to me, “I know I don’t have a big garden or a large piece of land, and after watching some of these videos, I’m terrified that I won’t be able to take care of my family should a civil war break out or something. I know I don’t have it as together as I should. But we just can’t afford it.”
 

Let me just stop you right there, friend.

The moment we begin comparing our lives to other people’s lives is the very moment we have failed. That is what is wrong with this country. If you have the mindset that you’re “better” than someone or doing things “better” than someone, then YOU are the issue with America. That’s how racism began. That’s how police officers shoot people that don’t deserve to be shot. That’s how police officers get shot when they haven’t done anything wrong while they serve and protect.

And if you see a homesteader doing that, whether comparing their lives because they want to be better, or comparing their lives because they think they’re the best…..stop them dead in their tracks. I dare them to say the things they say online to your face or mine. Because nine times out of ten, they won’t.

Stop it. Stop doing that. You’ve lost sight of what homesteading is. Homesteading isn’t “who has it altogether this way or that way.” Homesteading is a way of life. It is constant. It is not a race to the finish line.

If you are homesteading simply because you want to be prepared for the end of the world, that’s awesome. But that’s not what homesteading originally was. Yes, you heard me. And you know it’s true. You’re considered a “prepper”, not a homesteader.

If you’re homesteading just to make a quick buck, that’s not going to happen either.

If you’re homesteading because it’s “fun” and the “new thing”, well…you won’t last very long if you don’t soon get serious.
But if you’re homesteading because this is the lifestyle you wish to pursue. Getting back to your roots. Getting back to a simpler way of living and a healthier way of raising your family. Learning how to be self-sustainable and self-sufficient. Learning de-stress and live life to its fullest. Then, comparing your homestead to someone elses homestead is just ridiculous. Your family is different than everyone elses family. Your needs and wants are different than everyone elses needs and wants. Your income is different. Your medical needs are different.You….you are a different person, in a different region, in a different town. And that is beautiful.
I’ve gotten a real sense of what homesteading used to be. Living at the base of the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and working in the line of work that I do, you learn a lot about history. As I said to my homestead friend this week when she was sharing her concerns with me, just because someone has a homestead that looks all put together, doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away from them in an instant.
This friend is having her homestead taken away as we speak. It’s heart breaking. And there’s absolutely nothing she can do about it.
It’s true, folks. Just ask the homesteaders who we literally driven off their land and out of the mountains when the government came knocking. Every time I see an old stone house up in the mountains, I remember this piece of history. And if we refuse to know history, then we are simply doomed to repeat it.
They had guns. They put up fights. My heart broke as I read countless amounts of letters that these homesteaders wrote to the government, begging for their land back, pleading their case. But they lost. Certainly, most of them we uneducated, but can you really blame them?
Sure, we say we would fight for our homesteads should someone come and threaten us (be it government or scavengers during a hard time), but would we really? At a certain point in the fight, is keeping your animals and land more important, or is taking care of your family and not putting them in immediate danger more important?

Listen, I love my house. I love my animals. But I love my family more. YES, I’d fight for my home, land, animals, and family. But would I fight to death for my house and animals? Probably not. I always chuckle when someone says “if the government comes to take my guns, I’m going to shoot”. Yeah, sorry, it’s not worth it to me. My husband and I have seriously sat down and had this conversation before, just to be prepared for when that time comes. Certainly, I’d try to outwit them. But I’m not going to go to jail and leave my child without a parent. That’s just STUPID.

This is why I cannot stress to you more, to be prepared in ALL situations. If you are completely relying on your own personal property to pull you through a hard time, you may be highly disappointed when it fails, gets taken away from you, or animals start dying off because you don’t know how to make your own feed/hay. This is why I stress learning how to hunt, trap, live off of the land that surrounds you, not just the land that you own. Wild edibles. Birds. Squirrels. Deer. The bounty is in abundance in so many areas. Settlers survived, we should know how to survive as well. And believe it or not, that doesn’t involve having resources at your finger tips. That involves having knowledge.

I say all of this, just as I said to her, because I want you to know that the urgency to have a homestead is certainly real. Taking care of yourself outside of government is definitely enticing and necessary. But the reality is that even if you are the most prepared person in the world, it can all be taken away from you. Let’s get real, folks. It takes one match to set your entire house on fire if someone really wanted you to stop homesteading. Again, read a history book.
It takes one small mob to ransack your property looking for food and shelter. What then? Are you going to tell people that they can’t have your food? That you aren’t going to share? You’ll have to shoot them, or be a kind person and share with those in need.
It takes one government swat team to come in the middle of the night when you’re least suspecting it, arresting you for homesteading, God forbid it ever come down to that.
But do you know what they can’t take away from you? They can’t take away your skills. They can’t take away your knowledge. They can’t take away your ability to learn and share knowledge.
Sit back. Take a deep breath. Breathe. And enjoy this lifestyle…enjoy this journey. It is a journey to be enjoyed. But also a journey to be taken seriously.
Stop comparing your homestead to mine. I’m certainly not one to mirror after. I’m tiny! But I am comfortable in knowing I have knowledge.
Stop comparing your homestead to others. Stop wishing you had more of this and more of that. If you want it, work towards it. But in the meantime, be happy with where you are in your homesteading journey. You don’t have to gain all of this over night. Nor is it even humanly possible. Your animals and homestead will lack.

And don’t you dare allow anyone to make you feel bad about where you are in your homesteading journey.

Sure, I’d like more land. Give me 10-20 acres and I’d be a happy little lark. But guess what, I can’t afford it right now. 
Sure, I’d like to have a huge 3 acre garden and can all of my food for a year or more worth of supply. But the reality is that I have a job, I couldn’t spend all my time doing that even if I wanted to. I would never see my kid. I would never have time to spend with my family between working and gardening and canning. Kudos to those who do it though. You are amazing and incredible and beautiful. But it’s not possible for my current life right now. Doesn’t mean it won’t be possible later in life.
Sure, I’d like to grow my homestead and have it bigger and more sustainable. But I am happy with where I am right now. Why? Because it’s working for us right now. Of course, you must grow and expand. That’s common sense. But you don’t have to do it on someone elses watch. This is your life. This is your journey. Own it.
I get it, you don’t want to live just for the “right now”. You need to be prepared, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be. But I also want you to understand that being prepared doesn’t just mean food and shelter. It means having the understanding of having to live WITHOUT it if you have to.
Embrace homesteading. Learn from it. Grow in it. Because no one ever succeeded from rushing into something they knew nothing about. Knowledge is not gained overnight. It is gained from dirt under your finger nails, from heartache of watching an animal slip away in  your arms, and of failures and successes alike.
You know, in the 1960s we had a lot of people preaching the doom and gloom theme too. Every 10 to 20 years we get them. People that have fear instilled in their inner core. People needing to feel validated for their life choices and decisions. But I assure you, if you’re secure in your knowledge and lifestyle, you will not want to instill fear into other people. You’ll want to educate and share knowledge. But you understand that life will still go on.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about being prepared. In fact, it’s biblical. But I am not for using scare tactics in which to do it. And I am not for belittling other’s abilities and lifestyles just for the sake of it. That’s not community, that’s dictatorship and pride. Prideful knowledge puffs up and is boastful, humility is quiet and educates.

 

I encourage you to take time and really think about what you want in your homestead journey. We all have goals and plans. Stick to them. But realize that they are going to change as your wants and needs change. Your life changes. Things happen, unexpected sometimes. And therefore your goals will change.
I also encourage you to stop comparing. Stop watching videos and reading blog posts and thinking “gosh, I wish I were like so and so,” or “man, I’m screwed.” I get it. I do it too. I look at photos and think gosh I wish my house looked different. I watch videos and think to myself, wow, I really need more land. But guess what, my family needs food on the table more than I need land right now. And that’s the reality of it in this moment. I refuse to put my family in a financial situation that causes heartache just because I want to be more “prepared”. When in reality, being “prepared” isn’t even a guaranteed safe card.
I refuse to be belittled by someone whose life is not my life. Whose feet have never walked in my shoes. And whose outlook on life may be different than mine.
And you should to.
So love life. Love the journey right where you are, right here, right now. Embrace a true homesteading lifestyle. Be prepared and informed, but do not be consumed and degraded by others. 
And most of all, grow.
Grow into who you want to become. Who you want your family to become. Share love and knowledge. Because none of us are going to get anywhere by comparing. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. That’s where racism and sexism begins. In the minds of weak people who think it’s acceptable to compare and put themselves on pedestals.
Homesteading is beautiful. Let’s keep homesteading pure and natural. And that all starts by loving the journey, loving your neighbor, and being perfectly ok with where you are in the journey…right here, right now.

What is True Self Sufficiency?

 

I’ve been on this “homesteading” journey for a few years now. I’m not nearly where I want to be, at all. You can read what my Ultimate Homestead Dream is in another blog post. Homesteading truly is a journey. You have to start somewhere. Some of us want to dive in head first all at once, but that’s just not possible for everyone, like us. I’d love to have it altogether, but the reality is that I don’t.
So for now, I’ll bloom where I’m planted, and make the best of what I do have to work with.
But the question begs to be asked…
What is True Self Sufficiency?
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
It’s a question I ask myself, and a truth that I remind myself of often.
We are not completely self-sufficient yet, and we aren’t anywhere close to being completely self-sufficient yet. But it’s one of my goals. No, we aren’t going “off-grid”. No, we aren’t “preppers”, though I’ll touch on the different types of “preppers” there are, and your mind will be blown! And there’s nothing wrong with living off-grid or prepping.
So, what is true self sufficiency?
 
 
Feeding yourself completely off of your land and/or sourcing some food from a fellow farmer/homesteader
Believe it or not, even our grandparents didn’t always “grow it all” and “do it all”. Let’s get real for a second. Most of our previous generations depended on the homesteading community to survive. One family excelled in growing wheat while another excelled in vegetables. They traded off goods and services. It was true community. My generation either needs to understand that you’d literally have to work your fingers off in order to “do it all”, or you’ll have to outsource some of your food products. Does this mean from a grocery store? No, that’s not what I mean. True self-sufficiency isn’t relying on the grocery store for what you don’t grow. It’s relying on the community, farmer’s markets, other homesteaders and farmers, for what you can’t or don’t grow or make. Why is that true self sufficiency? Because you aren’t putting your money towards a commercialized business that spreads a thin layer of income over farmers across the world. You are literally pouring money back into your local economy, and essentially, right back into your own wallet.
Breeding your animals for consumption or use, not continuously buying/renting them

For example, if you are breeding rabbits for meat, being truly self-sufficient means you aren’t going out and buying new rabbits for meat consumption. And besides, ew. I want to know where my meat comes from, not just buy it off craigslist.

It means you sit down, have a plan, get your rabbit herd together, and then start breeding your own meat. Sure, breeders die. But that doesn’t mean you have to go get a new one. This means you plan ahead and hold back certain babies from litters so that you can better your lineage and be sustainable. This can easily be done by starting with pedigreed rabbits that come from several different lineages. Knowing the animal and where it came from is half the battle.

The same goes for any animal that you are using for consumption, product, or work. Once you have established your herd or breed, the only time you should be adding new blood into the breeding system is to better your lineage and offspring. This doesn’t necessarily need to be done every single year. Studding out animals is a long time tradition, but it can get expensive. If you have a way to hold back animals, that’s the best self sufficiency option. However, finding another local homesteader who you can trade services with is a great option too.
 

 

 

 

Preserving your harvest
I like to call this the original “prepping”. It’s not what today’s modern society calls “prepping”. It truly is just preserving your harvest from that year. If that defines you as a “prepper”, then society is wrong. I’d like to be referred to as just a smart homesteader trying to live like the older generations.
One of your greatest steps into true self-sufficiency goes hand in hand with gardening or sourcing food from a fellow farmer. You’re going to need to preserve this food, because whether you like it or not, if you don’t have a working green house, you’re not going to be able to grow your food all year long.
This means you learn how to can vegetables, fruit, and meat. It means you learn how to cure meat and other goodies. You create a space for keeping your preserved items, and you utilize them all year long.
 
Herbal remedies and natural living
 
If you’re going to be self-sufficient, then you’re going to need to learn how to take care of yourself. They were healthier because they ate real food. Our ancestors were healthier than we are now, because they did live off of their land and treat themselves. They didn’t run off to find a doctor when they had a common cold. Now, granted, there were certainly deaths from illnesses, but most of them were from impoverished villages or from people already dealing with other ailments. Or simply because they didn’t take care of themselves to begin with.
This is one of the biggest journey’s that I am currently on. One of my main goals this year is to be so self-sufficient in herbal remedies and natural living, that I will, ideally, never have to take my family to the doctor. The reality is that when you live a healthy lifestyle to begin with, you should rarely get sick or have a serious ailment. However, this goes far beyond that. What if my child falls and needs stitches? Clearly, I’m going to rush him to the ER if it’s something serious. But if it’s a cut on his knee that just needs stitching…I can do that at home.
Learning herbal remedies is a necessity in true self-sufficiency. I might ruffle feathers here, but this means you cannot completely rely on essential oils. Sorry, you just can’t. While EOs are ancient remedies, have you learned how to make them yourself yet? Do you personally know anyone making them? I don’t, and I doubt most others do either. It is easier, and healthier for you, in true self-sufficiency to rely heavily on herbal remedies rather than EOs. It is easier to grow herbs and make tinctures than it is to rely on EOs. With that said, a healthy relationship through self-sufficiency with EOs would look something like this—a fellow homesteader makes homemade EOs, and you trade them in dried herbs or pay for their goods.

We have become much too reliant on EOs, and throw our money at large companies praising them for the “best EOs in the entire world”. But if you don’t know what else is out there, how can you make that assumption? If you, yourself, don’t even know how an EO is made, you cannot falsely claim these statements.

Working and living without debt

This is a big one for a lot of people. Becoming self-sufficient should mean you don’t have to rely on bank loans and debt to live your life. Therefore, you work towards paying off all debt. Being truly self-sufficient means you have zero debt, or at least in a perfect world. However, most of us have mortgages to pay. With that said, people are doing it. People are building their own homes over a year or two time period, just so they don’t have a “mortgage” to pay every month. I don’t think we will ever be there. Our goal is to purchase a larger piece of land, and my husband will build our home, but I think we will always have that mortgage debt for at least a few years.

The other side of this is learning how to work. There are a lot of people who will still continue the daily grind of an office job, etc. Yes, that’s an honest living. But will you have time for that once you are truly self-sufficient?  This is where your working skills comes into play. Having a skill that you can offer to others is essential. Can you build things? Can you help others in some way? Or maybe you’ve become so self sufficient that you can buy, sell, and trade straight from your homestead?

Either way, work and living without debt is a major part of being truly self-sufficient.

Off-Grid vs. Modern Homesteading

Do you have to live off-grid to be completely self sufficient? That’s a good question. And honestly, out of this entire blog, I’m not quite sure how to answer that. I would like to think that you can have a modern homestead and still be completely self-sufficient, but that’s just not true. Again, completely self-sufficient is the key word here.

You are still dependent upon an electric company to give you electricity. You are still paying that bill every month. Original “off-griders” don’t have cell phones, don’t have electric, they don’t depend on anyone other than themselves for those things. But we don’t live in the renaissance here, people. We live in a modernized society, where sometimes, it’s better to have a cell phone than not.

So, do you have to live off grid to be completely self-sufficient? I’d say yes.

Do you have to live off grid to be completely self-sufficient in today’s modernized society? Absolutely not.

Going off-grid is a great option, but I don’t foresee it as an option for us. Unfortunately, we are just too modernized. I do have a job that requires me to have wi-fi, for the moment. We do have lives that require us to have cell phones. And honestly, we enjoy our electricity. And I don’t foresee us having the money to pay for solar panels anytime soon.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t foresee us ever being completely self-sufficient, but I see us getting almost there, or in today’s modernized definition of it, in the near future (once we have more space).

This is something I think about often, and something I’m asked often. And I hope that it helps someone out there, somehow!

We have to remember that, while we’re trying to get back to our roots, our roots have grown a lot in the past century. We are not the same world we were then, and therefore, homesteading and true self-sufficiency can look a lot different now than it did back then.

Ultimately, you have to decide what’s right for your own life and family. And true self-sufficiency might look a lot different to you than to others. But, by definition standards, this is what it would mean.

 

The Cost of Homesteading

Let’s be honest here, homesteading isn’t free. If you’re uneducated when it comes to history, our ancestors had land they had to buy and pay for. Equipment they had to pay for. Working animals they had to pay for, feed, and take care of. There’s a reason the bank came knocking on their door sometimes to collect money or debts. Of even worse, take their property and rights away.

Even on this small half acre that we own, homesteading hasn’t been cheap. We have to find ways to cut the grocery bill. We have to find ways to live frugally. We have to sell eggs to help offset feed costs. The list goes on….

But we aren’t poor. I never want you to think we are “poor” or need help. In fact, we are fairly well off compared to the rest of the world. But we’ve worked to get to where we are, and we both have supplemental incomes.

Homesteading is hard work. Homesteading requires you to wake up at times you don’t want to. Homesteading teaches you to be tough, because if you aren’t, it will eat you alive. Homesteading means you go outside in the pouring rain or the iciest of snows to tend to animals, to get up wood, to run generators just so things can function. But more than all that, this journey is one to be loved, cherished, and respected. As long as you understand the reality of financial income.

Never EVER put your family in a stressful financial situation just to homestead. You can do this journey the right way, I promise! Homesteading doesn’t happen overnight. It is gradual!

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, there are some things you need to know about how I run my small homestead. My homestead might be small, but it’s a working homestead.

I run this show. In case you hadn’t noticed. And I’m proud of it. I’m a pretty tough girl. I’m doing this because I want to do this, come hell or high water. These animals will be taken care of properly, and so will my family. Why? Because I decided this was my responsibility. And I own what I take on.

But even still, I can be quiet, gentle, and a loving wife when I need to be. There’s beauty in balance.

Yes, my husband helps with big things. He helps me make major decisions, and sometimes he flat out says “no”. He is the master mind behind every single building (except the original ones when we bought our house), hutch and structure on this small property. I could do this without him, but it would be a heck of a lot harder and more expensive. And honestly, I don’t want to do it without him. He is my rock, my logic, my sounding board. You can read more about his involvement in our homestead here.

I feed the chickens. I haul feed bags. I muck hutches and coops. I process our meat. I garden and harvest and can. I tend to every single animal on this property and I haven’t complained once. Why? Because I truly love what I do.

Enough rambling though…

The cost of a homesteader is not often spoken of. So, many people think that homesteading, the ultimate homestead, brings in enough resources that you’ll never have to pay for anything. We also like to throw around the term “true homesteader” now days apparently. And I promise you that money does not dictate whether you are a “true” homesteader or not. Homesteading it a journey, and one that should be enjoyed. Don’t ever let anyone say you’re not a “true homesteader” based on where you are in your journey.

But the reality is, whether you work for yourself, work from your homestead (workshops, classes, products), or something different, you’ll always need some kind of income.

** DISCLAIMER: Please keep in mind that my journey looks a little different than yours. We got chickens and rabbits with the understanding of breeding them to sell. You can certainly get away with a lesser quality animal if you’re just using them for your own consumption.

So, before you consider quitting your job and homesteading, here are some things to consider:

1. Homesteading isn’t free — $600+ a year
You’re going to have to buy land at some point. Sure, you can rent it or barter for rent, but eventually, you’re going to want your own piece of land to work on. Equipment costs money. Building good solid structures costs money. Power tools cost money (if you use them). And also, you have taxes to pay. Ugh, I hate taxes. Guess what, Uncle Sam could care less about your homestead and how well you’re doing without money. He still wants his money! Happy happy joy joy.

2. Food isn’t free — at least $100 a month
It is wonderful to be able to grow your own food, but if you’re like me, I can’t grow everything I need. I can’t grow wheat for flour. I’m lucky if I can grow enough tomatoes to eat. I would literally kill myself trying to grow it all. Therefore, I have to buy flour, sugar, corn starch, baking soda, salt—things that just aren’t physically possible for me to grow frugally here.

Food is a really big issue for me. If you are a homesteader, and you’re growing food, utilize it. If you are buying in bulk, you are still spending a large amount of money on buying in bulk. Good quality bulk items (organic and non-gmo) are not inexpensive. But they are worth it. While it’s not inexpensive, discounts matter!

There are a lot of great videos online about stretching your food and your food budget!

3. Utility Bills— $100+ a month
If you are not “off-grid” then you have utility bills. Even the best “off-griders” will tell you they have yearly and monthly expenses. Electricity, heat (if you don’t heat by wood), A/C, phone, cell phone, internet, tv, movies….the list goes on.

4. Upkeep of your homestead— $500+ a year
Your homestead is going to have to be kept up with yearly. Some of my 3 year old rabbit hutches need new wire and wood. And that stuff isn’t free. I’m going to have to march down to the co-op and get more wire and wood. You can’t use old wood for these things.

5. Medical and Vet bills—$200+ a year
We are working our way towards never needing a family doctor ever again (holistic and herbal medicine), especially since our pediatrician is getting ready to close its doors. However, at some point we might have an emergency. How will you pay your Dr. bills? Most M.D.’s with a $600,000 yearly income could care less about bartering for eggs or meat.

What about vet bills? If you have larger livestock, then at some point, you’re going to use a vet.

6. Initial start up costs/Animal investments—$1,000+ 
If you’re buying animals and building structures (properly), it costs money. Be prepared to pour a lot of money into this when you first get started, or if you plan on raising your animals right. I cannot stress to you that the quality of your animals is extremely important. Don’t opt for the $5 rabbits on craigslist. Don’t go for the $50 cow on that facebook group. Don’t….just don’t. If you’re going to do this, do it right. Don’t do it cheap.

If you want a chicken coop to last you more than 2 years, build it with good quality materials. If you want a good quality barn or shed, build it with good quality materials. I am an advocate for using things you already have, we’ve done it before. But also be prepared for those things to fail more quickly, which means more time spent on fixing them and keeping them up. You would have been better off just shelling out the money in the long run.

While all this makes a difference, once again, don’t STRESS and put yourself in financial struggle. It doesn’t have to happen overnight. You can work towards it! If all you have is what you have, then use what you have!

7. Feed for your animals — $15 to $500+ a month (depending on your homestead)
If you only have a few chickens, then you can get away with a bag of feed each month if they free range (not supervised free range, true pasture ranging). Around here, a non-gmo bag of feed is about $15-$17/50 lb bag. Organic feed is higher, at $23 per 50 lb bag. Buying in bulk is cheaper, but not much cheaper. And not necessarily cost efficient. Feed prices depend on how many animals you have and what your homesteading methods are. In the Summer months, our hens mostly free-range, so we can get away with a bag of feed a month. But in the Winter months, we go through a lot more. Same with our rabbits and ducks. If you’re raising meat rabbits, you will still need to supplement feed even if they are on pasture, otherwise you’re wasting your time. You’ll have more money in them than what you’re getting out of them, as pasture raised animals grow slower than feed animals.

8. Your time is equally as valuable—priceless
There is nothing more valuable than your time and skills. If I had paid someone to make my 8ft x 8ft coop, it would have cost me thousands of dollars. Because we built it ourselves (because MM has that skill) we were able to only spend about $800. Yes, you read that right. We also paid a friend (included in price) a couple hundred bucks to help MM finish it, as we were in dire need of a chicken coop (we got our chickens before the coop! Don’t do that!).

You also need to consider your own time. If you’re homesteading, and your family isn’t at your side at all times, then that takes time away from them. Time is more valuable than anything. Don’t value your homestead over your family, friends. Family is more important!

Without giving you too much information of specifics, here is a quick and rough run down of how much we’ve spent to get where we are right now (so, in the past 4 years, this is what we’ve spent).

Our Homesteading Expenses (over the past 4 years):

• Chicken Coop — $800
• Chickens — $400
• Rabbits — $500
• Ducks — $100
• Quail — $40
• Chicken feed — $2000+
• Rabbit feed — $3000
• Rabbit hutches — $800
• Straw — $150
• Expanded chicken run — $300
• Home repairs (only) — $5,000
• Yard/pasture repairs (seeding, leveling) — $300
• Wood for the stove — $2,000 +
• New wood stove (2) — $1,000
• Canning Supplies — $100
• Homeschool Supplies — $1,000
• Raised garden beds — $1,200
• Fill dirt (various projects) — $500
• Various gardening — $300

….I’m already up to almost $20,000 over the past 4 years…and that’s not even half of it. I haven’t even stated food costs, clothing, boots, gloves. I haven’t even gotten into the repairs (and other things) that are needed right now. I’m getting ready to rip my coop floor up and replace it. I’m getting ready to rip wire bottoms out of the bottom of 3 hutches and replace it. And, honestly, I’m probably low balling some of these figures. Because I’ve decided to just not keep up with it anymore. Oops!

My habit is easier if I don’t keep up with it…pffff.

There’s always something that needs mending, someone that needs feeding, and eventually someone is going to need stitches. Normally that someone is me, HA!

Homesteading is awesome. It is so much fun and brings so much satisfaction. But it’s not free, and it’s not always easy. Remember that during your best of times.

But remember that homesteading is a gradual journey. You can do this. But I just wanted to be real with you on cost of living. Take baby steps, and it will be much better!

 

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