Do You Like Plants or Animals?
This is a tough question! I know most folks who read this are thinking, “I like them both!” OK, most homesteaders would say the same.
But if you really had to choose just one of them, which would it be?
Personally, I’ve really wrestled with this question. When I was younger, I definitely would have chosen animals.
Remember, I was the kid who daydreamed about living out in the wilderness in my own log cabin, surrounded by all the friendly woodland creatures. But now that I’m older and an empty nester, I might choose plants.
Let’s consider the pros and cons of each.
Start with your why. My why was to provide all-natural meat for my family. In order to reach that goal, I needed livestock, so that’s what we started with: lots of four-footed animals.
In 2003, Victoria taught her goat, Marbles, to jump into her arms.
Having six children, whom I was homeschooling, was a huge benefit when raising animals. Many hands make light work. Plus, each child had an animal group that was their favorite.
For instance, one of my daughters loves chickens. She showed them at the fair and became a bit of an expert about these pretty, egg-laying fowl. Another one of my kids was smitten with goats. She also was the fastest milker and was always present during the ever-important kidding season. She actually taught one of her goats to jump into her arms!
I remember when we were bottle feeding calves, goats, and lambs. I handed a bottle, sometimes two, to each child as they went out to do chores. Always remember: It’s not considered child labor if you’re homeschooling. However, I couldn’t handle that kind of a regimen today by myself. It’s too much.
Another pro for animals is the product they provide for us. We drink the goat’s milk, though none of us are head-over-heels for the taste. It is typically better used for cheese and soap.
The meat from our cows, pigs, and chickens is fantastic. I absolutely love knowing the animal, what the animal ate, and how it was cared for while living on our farm.
The two biggest cons to consider are vet bills and not always being able to go on vacations. It can be expensive to keep farm animals, and the bigger the animal, the bigger the vet bill. Also, the potential loss is greater. If I lose my steer, I could potentially be out of beef for a whole year.
We finally got to the point of researching and trying to diagnose and prevent potential animal problems ourselves. We found that a clean, healthy environment with healthy food can make a huge difference when it comes to how many times you need a vet.
We also set limits on how much we could afford to spend before the vet arrived. It may sound heartless, but being objective and practical is so important before entering an emotionally difficult situation like this.
In summary, animals on a farm can bring great joy and great dividends. They can also break your heart and drain your bank account.
It’s also difficult to take vacations when you have animals that need to be tended to every day. And if you have milking animals, even more so! It’s hard to find farm sitters who have “can milk” in their satchel of skills.
Another option, as we did once, is to have one person stay behind to care for the animals while the rest of the family heads off on a great adventure.
I’ve been asked many times what animals are the easiest to care for and allow for the most time away. Bees are No. 1. Guineas would be the second. And third would be chickens, but only for a couple days. And you better be skilled at not worrying, because you know that’s going to happen!
Another consideration for animals is their size and your own agility. I’m not sure I would recommend standard-sized goats for someone who’s a little unstable on their feet. Goats have absolutely no personal space or manners (in most cases) and will knock you flat trying to get what they want.
Chickens, on the other hand, would be great. Be realistic in what you can and cannot handle physically. I’ve been working with goats for 18 years and still find myself being shoved aside, almost falling, because one of my goats had a different idea than I did about how a task should be performed.
Michael mulching around the fruit trees in 2010
Let’s talk a little about plants. Growing plants definitely gives you more freedom for travel. Plants are seasonal, and animals are not, for the most part. The resources necessary to keep plants alive is substantially less than what it takes to keep most animals alive.
Personally, I love plants! I have created flower beds all over our farm. I admit to seasons of neglect, like July and August, when I wave to them from inside my front door, blow them a kiss, and wish them good luck in the heat of the day. This isn’t possible with animals. Granted, a good watering system mitigates a lot of heat issues … if I could just finish mine!
Plants and animals are a huge consideration when planning your homestead. Be sure to take the time to figure out which is most important for you.
Then, decide if you have the resources, including money, to do it right the first time, either by setting up a good growing area or providing good fencing and proper shelter and feed for the animals you choose.
Are You an Introvert, Extrovert, or Ambivert?
This may seem like a silly question, or not relevant to homesteading, but it really is worth thinking about.
Most farmers, just by the nature of the work they do, are introverts. I read an article written by a Harvard grad on the topic. She stated: If you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, take a look at your hobbies.
Are they team sports or activities? Or are they solo activities? For example, I love to sew—solo activity. Gardening—solo activity. And writing—solo activity.
I always thought I was an extrovert until I read that article. Although I love being with people and meeting new people, I have a need to recharge by myself. My father, though, is a true extrovert. He’s with people all the time, even if it’s talking on the phone! People energize him.
Ever heard of an ambivert? It’s a new term and means you could have a mix of introvert and extrovert tendencies. But no matter what category you fall into, it’s worth the time and effort it takes to consider which you are.
It will make a real difference in your decisions about what kind of homesteading you’ll be doing.
For instance, if you are a serious introvert and really have a hard time talking with people, and yet you’re growing an acre of veggies to sell at the local farmers market, how well do you think you’ll fare?
It doesn’t mean you can’t grow the veggies. It does mean maybe you’ll consider hiring someone who loves to talk with people and would love talking about your vegetables. The reverse is also true for an extrovert. Farming or the homesteading lifestyle can be lonely at times. How will you do working days without seeing another person? Or the other situation to be aware of: As soon as people know you’re homesteading, they want to come by and see what it is you do!
Some days, you might have a chore list a mile long, and yet, because you’re starved for conversation, you find your days whittling away while you stand around chatting with visitors.
(I know this from experience.)
No matter which camp you fall into, or even if you’re an ambivert, you definitely can make it work. Just be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and set yourself up for success.
Lauren’s love for photography began at the farm.
Which Aspect of Homesteading Do You Enjoy Most?
Before digging into this question, I think it’s really important to consider taking time to intern at another homestead.
If you think you like working with animals, take a few weeks and volunteer at another place. Trust me, I know of no homesteader who would turn down an offer to help out.
If you think you want to grow veggies and can to preserve your food for the winter, offer to help one of your friends who already has these skills.
Once, when the children were younger, we decided to take a family vacation. We were friends with another family who were very interested in living the same way we were. We chatted with them about staying at the farm for a couple days so we could get away.
After the cursory training, we felt rather confident about the situation when we left. They also had children, so there were plenty of hands for work.
When we returned home from our glorious vacation, we were met at the door with tired-looking faces. After a short debrief, my friend admitted to me, “It’s so much more work than I ever thought. I don’t think we’re ready nor committed to this kind of lifestyle yet.”
I have since reconnected with her, about 12 years later, and she is slowly embracing the homesteading lifestyle—it took some time, but she and her family are really ready for it now.
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Excerpted from Simplify Your Homestead Plan with permissions from Ogden Publications.