Even as I cursed the early morning, walking down to milk Sal with a bucket in each hand, cold air nipping bitterly at my fingers, I still felt blessed. Blessed to spend the first thirty minutes of my day snuggled up to one of God's most amazing creations (in my humble opinion) – the dairy cow.
The world is silent at 5:00 a.m., aside from the crunching of oats between Sal's teeth, and it gives one time to ponder. To think in silence (a rare commodity on a homestead full of noisy critters and toddlers). Today, I pondered life on a homestead. Why is it that I am choosing to be here… with this bovine… in the cold of January… all too early in the morning. Why is it that I'll slip and slide down to the chicken coop every week to scrap frozen poo from the floor and nesting boxes? Why is it that we'll spend three hours of our weekend hauling in heavy, itchy bales of hay (which is, quite possibly, my least favorite task on the homestead)?
I think it's good for those aspiring to homestead – and those of us in the thick of it – to be reminded. Don't you think?
Because when you're drowning in milk, fending off crazy roosters with a pitch fork, and chasing moles out of the garden, you may be wondering. At least I do. Ha!
The Great Benefits of Homesteading (that we have found)Note: This list is infinite and inexhaustible. But it'll at least give a taste of what we've experienced.
Homesteading is humbling:
As a homesteader, one quickly realizes just how small one is and how finite life is. For any homesteader, mistakes will be overwhelming. Animals will die. Crops will be ruined. Structures fall down. Plans fall through. It's humbling to attempt and tame a piece of this Earth, only to have it implode time after time. Which – hear me now – it will. The chickens may be eaten by an owl or the cow may stick her food in the milk bucket – but regardless of the failings that will inevitable come, homesteading continues. So while it may be an extremely humbling road to wander down, the perseverance bred through the humbling failures is not to be missed. It's character building, don't you think? To fail, recognize one's inability to control life, pray for grace, and then continue on.
Homesteading builds a strong work ethic:
Work ethic is something strongly missing in our culture, don't you think? I've recently been rereading Farmer Boy and am taken back by the amount of work that was expected of children. At the ripe ‘ol age of six? seven? they're milking cows. Feeding animals. Training oxen. Cooking supper alongside their Mom. Kids are CAPABLE and thrive in such environments. While I'm thankful that our lifestyle no longer requires such labor from our children, it's important that the idea of building up ourselves (and our children) with strong work ethics isn't thrown out with the bathwater.
If anything will build up a solid work ethic, it's the responsibility that comes with growing food so that our family can EAT (ya. kinda important.) or raising animals that are reliant on us, day after day, for their survival.
The instant negativity associated with laziness in instantly felt on the homestead. The best way to breed it out is to slather it in work!
Homesteading tastes good!:
Many of y'all are chicken owners – you know the beautiful, orange, perky yolks that come from a well-loved and healthy hen. The taste is indistinguishable. I've ever surprised (why? I don't know) at the incredibly depth of difference of homegrown food to conventional food. Again, I think it's important to note: I'm very thankful that my survival is not dependent on my own ability to produce food. I think it's important and progressive that we have such food available to us year-round. But that being said, a lot of it just ain't good.
Ever tasted an out-of-season-picked-green-raspberry? It's like a flavorless gob of nastiness.
Even my hard to convince husband was undoubtedly convinced at our last dinner date out – he ordered the roast chicken. “Well, it sure isn't like our Rainbow Rangers. It's sort of flat tasting and squishy.” (You can read more about meat chickens here.) I felt the same about my steak, which was cooked and flavored beautifully, but still fell incredibly short of the grass-fed local meat we're used to. We spent the rest of the dinner planning how we could grow MORE of these things ourselves if for no other reason than the taste!
We're foodies. We like food that tastes the best.
And homegrown food tastes the best – fresh tomatoes from the summer garden, pastured eggs, homemade butter, fresh salsa, you name it. And I guarantee you it tastes better when you've grown it yourself.
I'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would disagree.
Homesteading breeds appreciation:
Back to those fresh tomatoes. Remember the first one you ate out of your garden last year? I bet you do. Because before you could taste that first tomato, you had to put in months of work planting seeds, caring for tender seedlings, planning the proper time to plant them out, protecting them from harsh weather, nurturing them as they grew and blossomed, trellising them as they became heavy with fruit, and patiently waiting for them finally ripen. And when that first delicious orb is removed from the vine, it's hard to not be brought to tears. I guarantee you that after hand milking a cow, you'll never look at a gallon of milk the same way, and the same goes for millions of tasks on the homestead.
Nothing breeds appreciation like knowing the hard work that went into providing our family with something.
I think this also correlates very closely with the homesteading mantra: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”. When the items that one grows or produces holds such extreme value, they tend to be treated far better and made to last, as well as utilized to their maximum. It's hard to find homesteaders that are wasteful – they appreciate the value of everything (even if it's garden scraps or manure for the compost pile).
Homesteading adds a new value to meat:
If you've ever grown your own your own meat, you know two things: 1. Meat takes an incredible amount of energy (ie: feedstuff) to raise and 2. Taking the life of the animal you are raising for meat is hard.
Let's start with the first point – the amount of energy it takes to raise meat. Whether this be in the form of grass or grain, the amount it takes to raise the mean is quite astounding. Because of this, we've found that the amount of meat that we eat has been greatly affected. We don't eat it at every meal. We don't even eat it every day. Limited resources of energy in the form of feed means limited amount of meat. Because vegetables and eggs can be grown here with such fewer resources than meat, that's a huge portion of what we eat. They are easier, cheaper, and require less energy to produce. Not something one really has to think about when purchasing meat from the store, but for a homestead, it's a really important equation to consider.
Taking the life of our meat animals also adds a new value to eating this protein. As was the case with our rabbits and our chickens, it was with great sadness and a profound appreciation that we slaughtered and butchered them for our consumption. It's not something to be taken lightly and when we've actually had to do the raising, killing, and processing of the animals ourselves we've found the meat to be far more valuable to us. You can read more about why we morally agree with eating meat HERE.
Homesteading develops a truer sense of gender roles:
We hold to a Biblical view and belief of gender roles and life on the homestead has proven those gender roles to be so true and necessary. Stuart is so strong and capable of many of the manual labor tasks that I am physically incapable of. I wish I was buffer – but I ain't. And so it goes. While nursing Owen, catering to nap schedules, preserving food, and preparing meals, I find myself naturally more drawn to work in the home (or that which can be done in the garden or in the coop with the children). While this isn't always the case (as I often lend Stuart a hand with big projects, bucking hay, or building fence) it's given me a new appreciation for my role as a Christian woman and as a wife, helpmeet, and mother.
I see great value in the chores that not only keep this homesteading running but also are of great service to this family.
Life on the homestead has caused me to see how these roles became so defined in times past – I picture a woman with a child on each hip, a giant white apron smeared with kitchen projects, and a few chickens following her around the yard. It's a beautiful thing and in no way less meaningful or important. All work on the homestead is extremely valuable and all of it is required to keep it running smoothly. Someone's gotta milk. Someone's gotta cook biscuits for breakfast. And someone's gotta butcher the animals.
Homesteading increases knowledge:
Like anything you commit time and energy to, naturally, knowledge is gained on the subject matter. Running a homestead has been no different. We've learned about everything from native grasses, to feed conversions, to heritage breeds, to the patterns and cycles of the honey bee, to milking a dairy cow, to fencing options, to soil assessments, to composting, to pollination, to cheese making, to water and energy usage, to first aid, to gutting a chicken, and everything in between.
One year ago, I had no idea how to do almost all of the homesteading tasks that I am capable of today. And we all remember my first experience hand milking a cow, don't we?
Knowledge is gained from other homesteaders, the internet, a variety of books (such as THIS, THIS, or THIS), and hands on work. It's a steep learning process full of common sense and practical knowledge.
And there is still so much to learn!
Homesteading breeds dreams:
As of yet, we've never found that nirvana of perfection with our homestead. We're always looking forward to what we can do better, more efficiently, and with improved results. Once we are successful with one project, it's time to expand the operation and dream bigger!
I love to dream. It's one of my favorite past times. It keeps us working and hopeful for what is to come!
While these great benefits of homesteading may not be true for every homesteader, we've found them to be very true to ours. At the risk of sounding cliche, homesteading has developed our character and grown us into better people of faith. We rely on the Lord for all the happenings every day on the homestead and are so thankful for every day that we get to continue on this journey with our land and our animals.
It's not a perfect life, and it's not for everyone, but it is pretty dang rad. If you ask me.
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