Useful Skills For Remote Homesteading

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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When we were planning for retirement in the mountains we realized our wished for lifestyle would require careful planning ahead of time. Since we started planning early we had ample time to prepare for what we assumed was retirement in a high altitude semi-remote location. Therefore, this blog is a hodgepodge of needed skills and talents.

For those not familiar with the word hodgepodge it simply means agglomeration, alphabet soup or assortment. This blog addresses numerous skills that are different but necessary to cope/survive in a lifestyle like ours.

Canine Care

Since we choose not to socialize with many others in our community we have our immediate family of German Shepherd Dogs. They are intelligent, social, protective, funny and excellent over all family companions. It is not that we don’t like people – we do – but our community seems rift with backbiting and gossip and we did not retire for such antics. We do have friends whom we socialize with but for the most part our companions are our four German Shepherd Dogs.

It is important that any breed be fully understood to have good relationships with them. There are books written on this subject and I will not go into detail in this blog on understanding or the training of dogs. What I will say is that we constantly talk to our fur family and the more we talk to them the more they understand. We live in a small cabin and with four large dogs and it is important that we communicate well enough so we are not tripping over one another.

We studied and continue to study how to provide them a healthy life and care for any sickness or injury which is bound to happen. A few nights ago one such injury happened and we had to be able to deal with it promptly until we could get our family member to the veterinarian which is an hour’s’ drive away.

One of our fur family has taught himself to go up and down the spiral stairs that go to the sleeping loft. In the middle of the night the power went out and when that happens at night it is totally dark in the house. We normally keep night lights on for our fur family (and us!) to navigate without incident but when the power went out that was when Echo decided he needed to be downstairs. He missed a step on the stairs and fell and injured his neck. That morning we were waiting for the vet to arrive when they opened up. They took him right in and diagnosed a soft tissue injury and prescribed pain medication. When we got him back home he paced and panted for 7 hours and we knew he needed relief.

We decided to improvise and put a 7” plastic collar on him that is designed to keep dogs from licking incisions or wounds. (see photo) That neck support was what he needed and he was then able to lay down comfortably. The moral of this story is that sometimes when you live an hour from the vet you need to improvise.

Service Skills

It is important to have various service skills to keep your homestead functioning well. Having plumbing, electrical, carpentry and small engine skills avoids unnecessary and costly visits by professionals. It is also important to know what you can do and what should be done by professionals. We retired early so money is not always available for those trip charges or professional fees.

We have educated ourselves to do the simple repairs and tasks and leave the more difficult jobs for the professionals. In addition to the professional fees we are charged a trip fee because of the driving distance to our homestead. The trip fee is usually around $50-70.00 which is usually a round trip charge. We found out regretfully when we needed our tractor repaired that the hourly rate for the mechanic started when they left and when they got back and coupled with the additional trip charge made those repairs very costly for us.

When we retired we purchased ‘how to’ books so we could do many jobs ourselves. We have found that a good ‘how to’ book  is very valuable. All you have to do is follow the steps in order and the job is done. We can change faucets, unclog drains, replace valves, repair hot water heaters, change wall switches or plugs as well as most construction tasks. Personally I still prefer the ‘how to’ book over the internet as I can lay it open next to the task at hand and follow the procedures systematically.

Educational Courses

Before we ever moved to our retirement location both Carol and I took courses on how to repair small engines. We took the basic course as well as the advanced course. We rely on small engines to handle the work that needs to be done around the homestead. We have a gas powered weed eater, snow thrower, multiple chain saws, generator and a power washer that all need to be properly maintained and repaired from time to time.

It is important that we keep the tall grass and weeds cut back from around the house for wildfire mitigation. The chainsaws are almost in constant use for clearing trees that have blown down or for cutting firewood. Since we heat with a woodstove we burn from 9-12 cords of firewood per winter depending on the weather. We need to keep the generator running for the occasional power outage that can last from a few hours to several days. Having the snow thrower should be self explanatory for an area like ours that receives 264” of snow on average a winter. The power washer is needed for blasting the clay and mud off our vehicles.

Being able to keep these tools running efficiently when they are needed takes some skill and education. The small engine course we took culminated in taking a 4 HP small engine completely apart and reassembling it and then have it running again. That is the type of course I would recommend as it is a hands on course that goes into detail on troubleshooting and repair. Therefore this blog is a hodgepodge compilation of  various talents to homestead remotely.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their homesteading and mountain lifestyle as well as their four German Shepherd Dogs go

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