Senior Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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Electric Thermal System (ETS)

What is it like to homestead when you are in your senior years?  While I can’t speak for all senior homesteaders I can speak for myself. We homestead on 11 acres located in the mountains of  S. Colorado. We have taken our property from undeveloped land to a point where we can move around with ease but even now after 23 years of exhaustive work there seems to be as much work remaining as initially encountered. It is similar to weeding a garden, it seems after you have just finished it needs doing again.

Endless Work:

The hard work seems continuous and if we thought it would be easier as we became older we were deluding ourselves. Trees continue to fall over and each winter brings more dead limbs to the ground. Gathering them and mulching them or hauling them off is an endless task at 9,800’ elevation. Structures need to be maintained and winter damage needs repair or replacement. Run off from the 290” of snow received last winter creates washouts that need repair. More rocks work their way to the surface that need to be dealt with and so it goes ad infinitum.

Altered Work Techniques:

How does that impact a person in their senior years?  It means we work slower and much more carefully. Instead of picking up that freshly exposed rock that we could trip over we use the tractor to move it. I would not even attempt doing it like I used to do it because knees and other joints have been abused enough and are already painful. I used to split firewood by hand but now we use a mechanical splitter. In short, the work doesn’t change much but doing it needs to be approached from a different perspective – a smarter, less stressful and safer manner. What used to take a day to accomplish can now take several days.

Evaluate Tasks First:

Seniors can successfully maintain their homestead but we must do so differently and more cautiously. We may work slower but we work more efficiently. We use tools where we can as opposed to raw muscle power like we once did. We contemplate the easiest way to perform a task as opposed to rushing into the task. We don’t bundle tough physically demanding jobs together but instead spread them out over time.

Adjust And Adapt:

Seniors can without doubt homestead and can still enjoy all the things that brought us to our homestead in the first place but we clearly must alter our approach. We still enjoy working outside and the satisfaction of working with our hands and seeing our accomplishments.   If we thought at this stage of our lives we could sit back and say “job well done and now it is time to enjoy life and rest in all our past work” – that is not reality. Seniors must learn to adjust and adapt.

Electric Thermal Systems:

One of our adjustments was to install electric thermal systems (ETS). ETS are electric heaters that heat ceramic bricks and then slowly dissipate the heat as needed. (see photo) They are electric and heat the bricks during the non peak hours at a discount rate on our electrical bill.  That has greatly reduced our need for 9-12 cords of firewood each winter. While we still depend on our wood stove for heat during very cold periods the ETS saves us from getting up during the night to periodically feed wood into the stove. Due to the high efficiency of the units our carbon footprint is still very small.

Working Carefully – Avoid Accidents:

Agility for seniors diminishes with age and accidents can happen. Some examples I have experienced are being hit with a tree that came back, slipping on frosty steps, sustaining two ankle fractures, smashing a finger, getting tangled in a tree limbs,  falling backwards and sustaining 5 stitches in the back of my head, a hernia plus all the falls where no obvious injury was noted. Being able to fall correctly is a skill worth knowing for seniors because falls will happen on steep terrain.

Can Seniors Really Homestead?

So how does a senior homestead?  Much more carefully and with more forethought.  Is it still  enjoyable? Absolutely, but it requires a much different approach to tasks and being more aware to avoid unnecessary risk as described above. Would I recommend it for other seniors?  It would depend on the physical condition of the senior. If the senior is healthy with good body and joint condition then that individual could successfully handle the difficult tasks confronted later in life. Also, if the senior purchases an established homestead that requires fewer demanding tasks it could be much easier. Starting from scratch on raw land is physically demanding and it would depend on the individual senior whether they could do it or not.

Would I Do It Again?

Life for us continues to be demanding as there is considerable snow to shovel in the winter (290” last winter) and while we need less firewood now to cut, haul, split and stack there is still a significant amount needed. In spite of all the hard work required I couldn’t be happier. The rewards clearly outnumber the hardships and pain in my opinion. Having a partner that is willing to share in tasks and that shares the same back to earth values is extremely important. If I could turn back the clock I would without a doubt do it again.

Remote Lifestyle:

When we first developed our property we had neighbors but the Spring wildfire reduced homes on our road to only ours. We are now the only home on our road but we are far from lonely. We have little time to feel alone with all the work to do just to maintain the homestead. We still have plenty of wildlife around our home to keep us entertained. Satellite television keeps us up on world events even though we feel better not knowing sometimes. Our nearest town (22 miles one way) is where we go for groceries and hardware. Also where we go to have human interaction when we feel we need it. It is a lifestyle that suits us.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their German Shepherd Dog Bozwell and their mountain lifestyle visit their blog site at:

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