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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


Homesteading as a Senior Citizen

Firewood method as a senior

More than 25 years ago, we started with raw, undeveloped land and established a cabin homestead with plenty of very hard work. We finally moved in full-time 20 years ago. We heat our cabin with a Jotul wood stove and grow some of our vegetables.

At the time, we started to develop our property we were both healthy and far more agile. Now that I’m in my mid 70s, all that hard work has done its damage on joints and muscles. We are still able to do the hard physical work but it is done at a much slower pace.

One of the physical attributes I sorely miss is the flexibility and agility that I had before. The natural progression of aging has made homesteading more difficult but far from impossible.

Aging Joints

I had started to work when I was 12 years old as a newspaper boy and carrying those heavy newspapers in a sack several blocks to my customers was my initial indoctrination into heavy work.

When I stop to consider all I have put my body through over the years, I realize that only being impaired by having to slow down is actually quite remarkable. By going slower, the job still gets accomplished — it just takes longer, and I now pay closer attention to working smarter. Homesteading on a mountain side at high elevation is about as hard as it gets, and particular care is needed to avoid tripping over rocks or falling since I am never on flat, uncluttered ground.

My focus goes from performing the task at hand to doing it more safely.

Homesteading in Senior Years

Homesteading when you are almost 75 years old is hard and takes a toll on your body, but I wouldn’t change a thing. In my mind, I’m still 40 years old, but at the end of the day after cutting/splitting firewood, shoveling snow, or just working around our property, my joints and body tell me I’m clearly not 40 years old anymore and neither is my body.

Joints take a lot of punishment in working a mountain homestead like ours, but we are enjoying the benefits of all our hard work in spite of the persistent pain and soreness. To all those prospective readers who may just be getting the glimmer of a thought of doing the same, I would encourage you to go for it. I do not have one single regret, plus the journey is amazing and completely fulfilling.

Gardening Challenges

Perhaps the easiest task I perform is gardening, which is in itself a unique challenge at this elevation since we have voles, moles, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and other critters that want to eat much of what we plant. Through the use of enclosed garden boxes, we do manage to provide some vegetables on our table.

Growing anything in the mountains is a constant challenge. This year, I started seed potatoes in a potato bin and before I could fully protect the potatoes, a chipmunk found his way into the circular container and consumed my sprouting potatoes. Leaving them unprotected one day was all it took for the varmints to destroy them.

I have heard that rhubarb is poisonous to animals and, sure enough, a ground squirrel was eating my rhubarb as soon as it emerged. I found him lying dead a few feet from his ill-gotten passion.

Firewood is Especially Hard but Possible

Perhaps our biggest task each year is the cutting 9-12 cords of firewood. Initially it was all cut and split by hand, but in recent years, Carol has convinced me to use a log splitter, which is a time saver and far easier than splitting it all by hand.

Getting our firewood in for next winter is much harder than it used to be, since we have gotten older so we take frequent breaks and work slower. We have also designed a more efficient method of doing the task: I will cut a little at a time to store behind the woodshed for the winter following winter. Next spring, I will make sure all the firewood is cut to length and then split it and resupply the woodshed.

By working that far ahead, we only have to process what is right at hand and hence be ready for the following winter. We usually cut the firewood in place and carry it to a trail where it is loaded onto our tractor and unloaded conveniently right behind the woodshed until it is needed.

Would I Change Anything?

I wouldn’t change a thing to keep up this lifestyle — physical limitations or not. I am very fortunate to have a wife/partner who is willing to help, and together, we manage to get the jobs done — albeit a little slower than we used to.

Constantly seeking to be self-sustaining is tough regardless of age or physical ability, but as in many things in life, it is the hard, never-ending work that actually serves to keep us more fit and able to continue to do it.

Mother Earth News Provides Inspiration

I have been an avid reader of MOTHER EARTH NEWS since its very first edition all those years ago. With all the reader contributions and articles over the years, I attribute much of our current lifestyle to the magazine and its contributors by providing encouragement. It has given me the inspiration to work toward our current lifestyle and provided techniques to actually make this a reality.

It has been a long journey to get to our present status, but it started when I purchased the first copy of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I was fully hooked and decided then that a more self-sustaining lifestyle was what I wanted for myself and, step by step over the years, we slowly moved toward that type of life. I do not have any regrets in doing so.

The real satisfaction has been slowly working toward homesteading and self-sufficiency and not instant gratification. When we are no longer able to maintain our lifestyle, the person who purchases our homestead will have the instant gratification but will not have the pleasure of taking the homestead from raw land to what we have presently.

Seniors like myself are coping today on many levels of homesteading and life is good for us, even if a little more difficult. In today's world with all the turmoil surrounding us, I think MOTHER EARTH NEWS is more relevant than ever, because it allows the reader to temporarily escape the numerous daily conflicts and be inspired to a far more pleasant and healthy lifestyle. I am so grateful to be allowed to contribute my very small part to a really great magazine.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their lifestyle go to www.brucecarolcabin.blogspot.com. Read all of Bruce's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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brucem
6/10/2016 7:15:43 AM

Dear Jeff and Vickie: Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring story with readers. Your story amplifies what I was able to write about having to adapt and the resilience needed when we get older or develop infirmities. It also demonstrates to other readers that just because we are older or have infirmities that it doesn't mean we can't function normally - it just means we need to adapt and adjust to fit the need. Your story demonstrates strength and perseverance and is an inspiration and thank you for taking the time to share it for the benefit of others who may be inclined to give up. Best of everything to you both and again thanks for sharing with the readers a remarkable story and how you have adjusted your lives...


vickieshaw
6/9/2016 7:45:28 AM

DEAR BRUCE AND CAROL, I'VE BEEN MEANING TO WRITE ABOUT THIS VERY SUBJECT FOR A LONG TIMME. GOD BLESS YOU BOTH FOR HANGING IN THERE. My husband has M.S. AND R.A. We have put every thing including the chickens close to the house. Our son paid for a high tunnel for us to grow our veggies and some of our strawberries. its 14 feet from the kitchen door. there are raised beds inside. Easy to grow and maintain and extends our seasons. the chickens are on the other side of that along with our small orchard. we have 6 top bar bee hives. the bars of wax and honey are easier for Jeff to lift.. This system is also easier to work with and a lot cheaper for the equipment to extract the honey. we grow hops on low hanging straps instead of 20 foot polls. this will give us a bit of income when we sell the hops. Jeff still hunts and we butcher our own broilers. for his pain, he takes mushroom tincture we buy from Hawk Meadow farms on line. He hasn't taken prescription pain pills for over a year. Mushroom tincture is a anti-inflammatory. We keep every thing close to the house as possible. And keep everything picked up so that we lesson falls. Very important at our age. We take all the classes we can at the Mother Earth News fairs. Meeting like minded people and keep learning, also very important at our age. I'm getting wordy, sorry this is so long but I was so happy to read your article. Lots of Love and blessings to you both, Jeff and Vickie.