I wrote about all the good and heartwarming reasons we enjoy living on a farm. But I then promised to write about the brutally honest rebuttal about our experience as erstwhile homesteaders and here it is.
We love so much about our life here but there are days where we need a break from our dream life!
- In the words of one of the most famous "Scrubs" episodes, "it all comes down to poop." There's shoveling poop, there's scooping up poop, there's wheel barreling out poop, there's stepping in poop, there's sinking ankle deep in poop, there's slipping on poop and falling in it...just so very much poop. From the voluminous and slippery cow piles to the sticky and stinky chicken poops, it's actually manure gold for your garden. So grab a shovel and scoop it up and save it in a compost pile. Except for the dog poop. That does not go in the compost pile. And when you have a litter of puppies, there is a whole lot of it!
- The weather is another hard fact of farm life. And the worse the weather gets, the more work your animals need you to do for them. Is it raining buckets? Great, because you get to go run out to the barn and pastures and make sure your animals all have access to a dry spot. Is it freezing and so cold your fingers won't bend? Lucky you, you get to work with frozen hoses and temperamental heaters to make sure your animals have thawed water to drink. You may even get to thaw your spigot with a heat gun first. Is it hot as Hades out there? Perfect, now get on out there because your animals need you to make sure their waterers are full and maybe hose them down. Tornado coming? Guess who gets to go out to the barn to secure doors and put animals in a stall where they can be safe and not hurt themselves in a panic. Working smarter may help to alleviate some of the tasks (automatic waterers and doors), but there is no replacement for your sweat equity on a farm because even perfect systems will fail eventually. (Have you seen Jurassic Park? Cows can be the velociraptors of the farm. Just sayin'.)
- Would you like to go on a vacation? Then you will need an angel of mercy in the form of a kind-hearted neighbor who will either trade you the favor or let you pay them. But while you spend the week and days before your trip rushing around running errands and doing piles of laundry and packing, you also get to be doing extra work around the farm. Feed bins need to be filled to the top, stalls need to be extra clean, waterers need to be emptied and brushed clean and filled with fresh water, fencing needs to be fixed, and any medication schedules need to be addressed before you leave town. Basically, you have to take care of all the little details that you do not feel comfortable asking your kind friend or neighbor to care for before you leave. You do your best to make sure you don't leave your friend with your escaping, marauding animals. Then when you get home from your relaxing vacation, you repeat the entire process again to be caught back up. It's the same principle as the laundry and household chores or work after a vacation, but instead for very dependent and needy living creatures. Who sometimes can't wait even an hour after your arrival home and will "moo" or bleat until you come take care of them.
- The dependency can be overwhelming. While it is largely comforting to be surrounded by animal souls, ultimately, they rely on you for their survival. Improper diets, unclean housing or feed areas or unclean water can have a disastrous health impact. They need you so much. And if you are getting overwhelmed by the things your spouse needs you to do, and the myriad of things your children need from you, the needs of your animals and farm will feel heavy indeed. Did you hear how many times the word "need" was repeated? Need, need, need.
- Everything that can break, will break. And probably when you need it most or at the least convenient time. It's some sort of rule of entropy that never fails on a farm. In the four years we have lived here, only one thing has not broken on the farm: the chicken pop-hole door (Pullet Shut Door) and its solar panel and light sensor (knock on wood). Pretty much everything else has needed to be or is waiting to be replaced.
- Animals have a beat on the least convenient time to provide you extra work...and that's when they go for it. I don't know how, but they do. Five a.m. on a Saturday and your pregnant self is looking forward to the rest when all of a sudden you get a phone call from a neighbor to let you know about your escaping dog/goat/cow (fill in the blank). If you're lucky, said animal is not ruining your neighbor's property. Or, let's say, you're getting ready to head out of town in a couple of hours. And you look out your window to see your goats living large in your landscaping, having busted a big hole in the fence. Or maybe you've caught a cold and really have been looking forward to going to bed all day only to find out your beautiful dog has gone into labor and starts her 8-hr delivery right around midnight. Or maybe a frisky puppy has unplugged the heat lamp to your new chicks during a surprise spring cold front. Let's just hope and pray on that one that you happen to look outside and notice the lack of light from the heat lamp so you can rectify the situation before the devastating consequences. I didn't this last winter and that was a sad blow. And there really is some truth to the old wives' tale that your livestock are likely to deliver during bad weather. I have brought in several new goat kids or alpaca crias from the pouring rain all soaking wet and in need of a heat source and maybe even a good dry with the hairdryer. I'm not sharing these true stories to complain; but I am trying to illustrate that there is a pattern of really bad-timing that happens. But who knows,...maybe there just isn't such a thing as good timing on a farm.
- If you think your verbal children are ornery, livestock and animals take the cake. They may take the hint from time to time and come in for feed or shelter, but it's quite common they they decide to take a path of self-harm and fight you in your efforts to convince them otherwise. Kicking and spitting, pushing and shoving, trampling and stomping, the threat of danger is very real as you try to help heal or guide them. (Or help them on their way to the butcher.) I wasn't really a swearing sort of woman until I started working with animals. And that is a truth that I am reluctant to admit because I hate those kinds of vulgarities. But there it is.
- It is relentless. The time, the sweat, the money...it just keeps coming and coming, day after day, month after month. If you come from a different background, as we did, and are used to somewhat having your life controlled, that experience has to be tossed out the window. You can not be on top of a farm. You can not be in control of what happens. And, for every task you complete, two or three more pop up in its place. As the weeds, mud, manure, and flies take over, your animals' health starts to wane, so you continue to chip away as best you can at the natural siege happening to your life. Some days it feels hopeless. Some days you feel pretty proud of your accomplishments only to wake up the next day to see your work starting to be undone. This, more than any of the other ones, has been the hardest lesson to learn and most disheartening of the challenges. The other things will roll right off your back once you embrace the farm lifestyle, but this last one can really take the wind out of your sails some days. I can draw so many parallels to being a stay-at-home mother and the chores of housework. The difference is that a farm takes that concept and multiplies it by 10 or 20 or however much acreage and responsibility you have taken on.
So now you know what what we believe are the "cons" of the farm. But, ultimately, for us at least, the pro's still outweigh this list. And the days where you push through and get your work done, despite the challenges, are truly glorious. You and your children have earned that relief and rest at the end of the day. And, what's more, you have learned a semblance of what "fighting the good fight" means and how to endure to the end despite the obstacles. And you learn how to pray on your knees because you now you have needs nobody else can help you with.
And again, what we do is very small-scale and unimpressive compared to the true farmers and ranchers across our country and world. They handle hundreds of thousands of acres and just as many animals or crops. Their livelihood depends on their unpredictable success and that is a concept I can not really fathom. Our experience is very much limited to the small-scale homestead and the limited challenges it presents. Please take our experience and words for what they are worth, and not more.
In summary, please know that we are humbled in and through our attempts at homesteading and that we in no way will pretend to know everything about it. But we are trying our best to live this homestead life in an honest, respectful, and prayerful way. The lessons we are learning and the growth we have seen in our family that are tied to this experience are priceless for us.
What about you? If you live on a homestead or a farm, what do you think are the biggest struggles? And if you don't, what are the things you would most like to hear about?