Learning on the Homestead

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette and Wolf Branch Homestead
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The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning” by Monte Burch was a book I read when learning how to tan hides. On the left is a skinning knife with a gut hook, and on the right of the book is a fleshing tool.

A phrase I have heard many times in life says, “You’ll never know ’til you try.” Though the wording may be different around the world, the meaning to it remains very true. Without the will to grow and put forth the effort, an individual would find it difficult to take up new hobbies or projects that could benefit the future of their home, their income, and their well-being. Whether it’s reading a guide on better livestock care or watching a video of how to construct your own smokehouse, there are always opportunities to learn on the homestead.

There are multiple ways to gain new skills and knowledge, and they all have their own pros and cons depending on what sort of learner you are. Some people are able to simply pick up a book with a few illustrations and put it into practice, while others may be able to watch a tutorial online on the subject. Watching a video may not be enough for others, and they may find it more beneficial to work with an experienced individual to guide their process. No matter which initial method you choose to approach something new, in the end, it will be necessary to put your learning to the test by doing it yourself.


I have always been an avid reader, and I retain knowledge much easier through words. If I ever try to explain something to another person, I find it hard to describe the things I do out loud. However, if I were to write down step-by-step what I was doing, I would find myself giving much more detail on paper. This same concept also applies to the way I learn, because I seem to pick up more information and helpful advice by reading a book. It is also helpful to refer to measurements and instruction that is there for future reference in text, say you were without access to a computer. A physical book is often substituted with e-books and blogs in modern days, which can be equally helpful by providing you the chance to directly contact the author and possibly ask their advice.


At times, I have been unable to follow along with illustrations to pick up a new skill. It was necessary for me to watch a video of someone else at work. For instance, I have always been in awe of the intricacy of dream-catchers, and wanted to learn how the webs within them were made. A quick “how to” search led me to a visual tutorial that, coupled with the maker’s slow process and thorough explanation, gave me the confidence to try it myself. There is a great benefit to videos, as you can pause or repeat them as need be.


Sometimes, little can compare to working side by side with a skilled individual that has years of experience and adaptation. Five people may all tell different tips and tricks for fur trapping, for instance, and sometimes you may find yourself combining multiple methods to achieve your finished product or pick up a new trade. You may even be lucky enough to have workshops and classes advertised locally, whether they are free or at a small cost. As an example, there is a farm a few miles away from us that offers classes for beginners on canning produce during the harvest season. Having a mentor is beneficial, as they can offer advice for improvement in person. It is important to find someone who is patient and willing to explain theirs steps when learning in this way.

I put what I learned into action by tanning this beautiful Whitetail deer hide. (Photo: Wolf Branch Homestead)

Putting Knowledge to Work

There comes a time to apply what you have learned to physical practice, and it will come with its challenges. You won’t immediately be perfect at building, crafting, or growing something new. It takes perseverance, hard work, time, patience, falling down, and getting back up. When your first batch of strawberry jam doesn’t set up right, or your measurement for the chicken coop is off by an inch, I encourage you to not give up. Instead, seek to learn from that mistake, refer back to instruction if need be, and try again. Taking notes as you go is helpful, and may benefit another learner in the future! There may be a hobby that you wanted to try that doesn’t work out, but if nothing else, simply find satisfaction in knowing that you followed through. Just remember that you won’t know the end result unless you give it a chance!

Fala Burnetteis a homesteader with her husband atWolf Branch Homesteadin Alabama. They are currently building their own log cabin and milling their own lumber, along with raising a small flock of chickens and tanning furs. Read all of Fala’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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