Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
If people who have only houseplants or a dog find it difficult to get away because of those responsibilities, then it’s no wonder that we homesteaders may consider vacations near-impossible. Because vacations are important for our mental health and the health of our relationships, I’d like to share how my husband and I arrange worry-free time away from our farm and animals.
Community is key: Our homestead consists of a large garden, orchard, bees, chickens, turkeys, miniature donkeys and milk cows. This probably explains why we went several years without a vacation! It’s true that we haven’t found the “perfect match” for one person to handle our farm. If someone had that expertise, they would probably be too busy with their own farm. On the other hand, we haven’t found it necessary to be part of a commune in order to have people help us out so we can get away.
Currently, there are two friends who handle different aspects of our homestead so we can vacation. The one, who is four miles away from us, also has chickens. This allows us to care for her animals twice-a-day when she is gone, and she returns the favor by caring for our smaller animals. The other is a close-by neighbor who has beef cows. We’re in the habit of helping each other out when a pregnant cow needs watching or it’s time to make hay. Therefore, we find it easy to keep an eye on each others’ cows when one family is gone on vacation.
Timing is important: Fortunately for us, we prefer taking vacation off-season when hiking trails are less crowded. That schedule is perfect for having our homestead easier to manage. By mid-October in Ohio, the garden harvest is complete and the bees tucked in for winter. Baby chicks and turkey poults have matured enough to live in the poultry houses.
Keep things simple: It seems wisest to ask care-takers to do minimal work because we want this to be an enjoyable experience for them. Selfishly speaking, we want them to be willing to cover for us for future vacations!
Not having others responsible for milking cows seems essential. Our cows do need milking when their calves are first born in springtime, but because their calves stay with them, the calves are capable of taking all the milk after they are about four months old. If we want any milk after that, we separate the calf and its mother overnight until after we milk in the morning. It is therefore totally unnecessary to milk cows when we’re gone—and we can leave contented cows caring for their calves.
The chickens and turkeys have large yards, but they also free-range when we’re home. For vacations, we keep things simpler by having the poultry confined to their yards during the day. This reassures us that the caretaker won’t be hunting for birds or eggs when it’s time to put them back indoors each evening.
There are other small things we do to minimize the caretakers’ work. The cows’ and donkeys’ barns and the poultry houses are cleaned just before we leave and sufficient food is stored right where the animals are fed. Also, we don’t expect anyone to operate the windmill which usually provides water for the cows. Instead, water tanks are set up by the more convenient water hydrants.
Some of the other time-consuming things we routinely do can be omitted at vacation time. For example, we usually put several supplements in the cows’ organic oats, but the cows will easily survive one week without them. I also alert the egg customers that their eggs will still be in the barn’s refrigerator for pick-up when we’re gone, but they won’t be cleaned!
Be clear about directions: Cell phones make it easier to be in-touch, but friends appreciate not wondering about details. If the caretakers have time, it’s reassuring to do the chores together one time before we leave. I also leave printed directions, specific for each animal, close to where they are fed. Taking care of other people’s animals makes it easier for me to know what’s helpful to have in print.
I hear the phrase “self-sufficiency” closely linked to homesteading, but homesteaders also need community for many reasons. Some chores are made easier and more fun with extra hands. We also often appreciate others homesteaders’ knowledge and opinions. Finally, vacations may sometimes seem like a luxury, but if we want to maintain our farms and our close relationships long-term, taking breaks with vacations is important—and for that, we need community.
Mary Lou Shaw and her husband grow most of their own food on their homestead with a large garden, orchard, bees, and rare-breed animals. These animals include Dutch Belted cows, Dorking chickens and Narragansett turkeys. Learn how to grow your own food with Mary Lou’s book, Growing Local Food, through Carlisle Press at 800-852-4482. Read all of Mary Lou’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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