Daunting Homestead Tasks Offer Life Lessons

Reader Contribution by Jo Devries
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Turning this eye-sore into a garden seems a daunting task.
Photo by Jo deVries


New steel fencing; a solid investment in sustainable food.
Photo by Jo deVries

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that life is full of ups and downs; best to buckle up and enjoy the ride, remembering that we never know what’s around the next corner. I do know that the tough times usually make for good stories in later years, and the miracles I have witnessed give me hope when facing the seemingly impossible.

Still, it is easier to give advice than take it, to occasionally feel overwhelmed, to lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. I try and remind myself to consider those people who were in charge of the clean-up after the 9-11 attack or of a devastating earthquake or major fire. How does one handle a problem of such magnitude?

Well, how do you eat an elephant — one bite at a time. And that’s the way we need to approach life’s enormous challenges: one step, one day, one work shift at a time. And each day that we do our best with what we’ve got, we have earned a good night’s sleep.

When I first bought my 6-and-a-half acres of bush land in Ontario, I tried to do everything at once. I was passionate about the idea of living sustainably. This pulled me in too many directions, and some things only got started or half-finished. Many chickens were killed by predators due to inefficient caging, the gardens quickly grew over with weeds, the brush that had been cut had re-grown. It was apparent that this lifestyle would require endless work. Working hard is fine, but I needed to prioritize my projects, and make sure that the jobs would not have to be re-done at a later date. I needed to be smarter and more efficient.

A Miracle in the Chicken Coop

After getting our cabin suitable enough to live in (for us anyway), I built a solid chicken coop. Since being built, I have had a number of years of successful chicken breeding, and the coop now pays for itself.

I had an early start on hatching chicks this spring, but had a few fatalities because of chicks having difficulty hatching by themselves. Two particular chicks were helped out by my son, Jordan, and me and then placed in a towel in a bowl on the woodstove to warm up and dry off. Hours later, I put them back with their mom, feeling that they would be best with her overnight. Everything seemed fine. The next morning, I went out to the coop to do my usual chores. I was horrified to see both chicks lying lifeless on their backs, only inches from their mother.

When chicks are helped out of their shell, sometimes the remainder of the yoke has not yet completely ascended into their abdomen properly; throwing them off-balance. If they fall on their back, they are like turtles and might not be able to get up. A newly hatched chick will die of exposure in a very short time in cold temperatures. This hen apparently believed in “survival of the fittest”. These chicks never had a chance once they tipped over.

Heartbroken, I quickly tucked the chicks under my shirt and ran to the cabin. Once inside, I stroked their lifeless bodies and prayed. There was no movement, yet I couldn’t bring myself to toss them in the woodstove — not quite yet. I propped them up on the firewood that was drying in the woodstove oven. I continued to pray, begging for a miracle. I kept saying, “I know they’re dead, I know, but You can make them alive, please. I wasn’t crying; just feeling empty and terribly guilty.

Then it happened. One chick, the bigger one, took a deep breath, its eyes still closed. I burst out in tears of joy and expressed my incredible gratitude. It was happening — a miracle!

I grabbed my phone to video-tape this amazing phenomenon. I focused. Then the second chick took a deep breath. Now, I was sobbing uncontrollably. Although their breaths were really far apart both were, in fact, alive. Praise God!


Hope (front) and Justice, an hour after being found lifeless.
Photo by Jo deVries

It took some time for them to regain their strength, but in hours they were snuggling with their two siblings and mother like nothing had happened.  Days later, they were all running around outside in the sunshine, catching bugs. I named them Hope and Justice.

When our time and energy is used towards living in harmony with Mother Earth, and we recognize our heavenly Father and his power, we will witness miracles. I’m honoured to have witnessed many. My efforts to live sustainably have been abundantly blessed, despite my many blunders.

Turning an Overgrown Field Around with Pigs

As far as gardening goes, this spring I was facing a field that was a disaster. The gardens and elderberry bushes were completely overgrown with hay. The wooden fences I had put up more than 20 years ago were rotted and needed to be removed. The field had become a forest. This was worse than starting from scratch; at times, I felt overwhelmed at the idea. Where would I start?  Okay, one step at a time.

In April, I bought two young pigs and housed them in the rotting pony corral. Perhaps I could get a few more months out of it.

I posted an ad at the local gas station, looking for an experienced person to install steel fencing at a reasonable price. I felt that steel posts would be a smarter long-term investment — I didn’t want my son to have to re-do this job in 20 years.

Three weeks ago, the first stage of the fencing was installed, giving the pigs a much larger area. Seeing the progress gave me the big boost of inspiration I needed!

I’m doing the preparation work now, so that the second part of the fencing can be put in next month — busy clearing trees and brush. Spraining my ankle twice in the past two weeks was a big set-back, but I’m trudging on.

Pinky and Red are happy to do the roto-tilling.
Photo by Jo deVries

Finding Assuredness Homestead Community

In the end, to attain sustainability we need community. We need family, friends, neighbours and those of like minds, helping each other and exchanging products and services. But more importantly, we need faith; faith that even when there is no one else around, we are never alone to face our struggles. Let’s just put in our time and do our best, working hard, and sleeping well because of it.

A good piece of land to grow a family, food, firewood and timber is better than money in the bank. It’s a solid investment, not just for my benefit but for future generations. The land I have cleared, the trees I have planted, and the gardens I have started are all a testimony of my commitment to a simpler more natural lifestyle that I want to pass on to my son. I’m working the soil on bended knee, and happy as a pig in mud. The pain and frustration from the hardships are quickly forgotten, and the joy of the miracles continue to warm my heart.

Jo deVries(Jo of the Woods) designed and helped build her off-grid Ontario home, where she and her son have enjoyed a pioneer-type life-style without electricity. She is the author of Does Your House Know Where South Is?and generously shares what she has learned during her on-going journey of turning a piece of bush land in to a self-sufficient homestead. Connect withJo of the Woodsand read all of Jo’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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