What Type of Homesteader Are You?

Can we talk about “The Homesteading Movement” for a minute?

I had a colleague recently ask how our farmstead was different than the farms she sees at the farmer’s market. At first glance, it probably isn’t very different, except we don’t have a dedicated market garden or sell at local markets – we rely on on-farm sales. If we look deeper though, there are probably a myriad of differences – how we approach our land and our lives, not to mention the plants and/or animals we raise. And then there’s the fact that sometimes the market table is merely re-selling produce they bought in bulk from a wholesale auction, often grown by Mennonite or Amish farmers hours away… but I digress.

The real question she had was how is homesteading today different from the “Back to the Land” movement of the 70s? What does it mean to homestead?

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

That’s a tricky one because it means something different to most homesteaders. For example,

  • I know homesteaders that live in subdivisions and others that have sprawling farms.
  • I know homesteaders that want an underground food system outside of all regulation, but just as many that appreciate basic food safety measures.
  • I know homesteaders with a goal to eat by the seasons and not supplement with items they cannot produce on their own farm and others that respect that goal and happily admit they don’t want to provide 100% of their own food right now.
  • I know homesteaders that judiciously use synthetic fertilizers and/or pesticides and others that prefer organic practices.
  • I know homesteaders that live 100% off grid, some that are working on reducing their energy footprint, but also ones that don’t have alternative energy options on their radar.
  • I know homesteaders that process animals on their farms, plenty that happily pay someone else to provide that service, and a few that limit their meat consumption.

Does that make any of them less of a homesteader? Of course not. We all have our own definition and goals and all of us are at a different point along our homesteading journey. I’d wager, though, that most of us feel strongly about personal responsibility and cultivating skills that build self-reliance.

Wondering what kind of homesteader you are? Take the quiz here.

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LGD Health and Nutrition: The Role of Body Condition Scoring

Health and nutrition go hand in hand. We all try to ensure that our animals are cared for in the best way, but have you ever been confused by feeding recommendations? We’ve tried a few different dog food brands and every one had a different feeding chart. None of them seemed to take into account that our dogs are working dogs. They aren’t your average pet. Our livestock guardian dogs live with the stock they protect. They spend many nights patrolling the fence lines and alerting potential predators of their presence (isn’t that a nicer way to say “barking”?).

We want our dogs to stay in top condition, but that can be tricky when some feeds offer recommendations like 2% of your dog’s weigh for maintenance up to 6% for newly lactating dogs. How often do you weigh your dog? It sure isn’t often around here…. and now I’m trying to imagine getting any of our LGDs to stand on the scale for me. Yep, not likely to happen this week.

Even worse, depending on the food I’ve seen recommendations from 4 1/3 to 11 1/2 cups per 100 lbs of weight. Talk about a range!

Feeding really comes down to size/bulkiness and nutritional density of the specific food you’re feeding. Whether you’re feeding commercial kibble, wet food, a raw diet, or a combination of food sources, you also need to consider your dogs energy level. In the end, we’ve found the best way to keep your dog at an optimum weight is to use feeding recommendations as a starting place, but to adjust based on their body condition score.

Want to learn more about body condition scoring your dog? Check out this short video:

Remember, if you have any concerns about your dog or start to notice changes to their stool, coat, or condition, always work with your veterinarian. Quality feed is one piece of the health puzzle, but parasite load and other factors can come up… especially for LGDs that spend a lot of time outside.

Want to learn more? Check out our Intro to Livestock Guardian Dog Course.

Behavior and Training Considerations for your LGD

Deciding on a Livestock Guardian Dog can be a big decision, but committing to training them may seem even more daunting. Here are a few key things to keep in mind.

1. Purchase from farms where the dog or parents (for pups) are working, preferably with the same species you want to protect. 

2. Set LGD pups up for success by ensuring early bonding – between eight and 16 weeks of age. 

3. Supervision is key at first. Bonding pens work well to get pups off to a great start.

4. Slow and steady – make gradual increases to the time spent with, space allowed, and/or number of animals a new pup is exposed to. Your LGD will gain confidence, but it takes time.

5. Treat your dog as a working partner. Remember to give the pup attention and praise while it’s with livestock, especially at first.

6. Consistency is critical. Be clear in your expectations.

7. A well-rounded dog is a confident dog. While your LGD has a primary job, it’s important that your dog is also comfortable wearing a collar, walking on a leash, riding in a trailer, and being handled or restrained for first aid and routine check ups.

8. Early interventions and repetition provide the best return on investment for your training time. Correct unwanted behaviors early on.

9. Feeding shouldn’t be a competition. Set a feeding routine and secure your dog’s food where there is no competition from your livestock.

Want to learn more? Check out our Intro to Livestock Guardian Dog Course.

Photo by Harry Cooke on Pexels.com

Ready to get more in-depth?

Even though your LGD will likely be living full time with your livestock, it is important to do some basic training with them. Tether training can be an important tool and help keep your LGD calm when the need to be tethered arises or if they get caught in a fence or other object. The Texas A&M Livestock Guardian Dog program shares a bit more here:

Do you have concerns about LGD aggression or how to socialize your dogs – including adding new LGDs to your property?

Check out this recorded webinar featuring Dr. Udell from Oregon State University:

Interested in more general LGD information? Check out our Intro to Livestock Guardian Dog Course.

Checking Your LGD’s Vital Signs

Did you know that while most people have a first aid kit and are prepared for an accident or emergency situation for their family, far fewer are ready when it comes to their animals?

It’s time to change that.

Let’s brush up on some skills together – starting with how to check your livestock guardian dog’s vital signs.

While we value our dog’s work ethic and the role they play on our farmstead, they aren’t exactly doggie actors. Instead of re-creating the work, we’re going to share a high quality video made by Red Bank Veterinary Hospital.

Want to learn more? Check out our Intro to Livestock Guardian Dog Course.

Country is a Mindset

Have you heard the saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup? Well, this weekend I was able to refill my cup a little. I carved out time to indulge in a conference that fuels my passions. The weather turned out perfect, despite the sunburn on my neck reminding me today that a wide-brimmed hat would have been advisable…. (Anyone else get their first burn of the year this past weekend?)

I don’t think it’s a secret, but being more sustainable on our farmstead is one of those topics that really resonates with me. I’m a huge proponent of encouraging families to reconnect with the natural world around them. To learn more about the unique environments in which they live, embrace the diversity of native plant and animal life, and reconnect with the food they use to nourish and enrich their lives.

A good friend invited me, so there was the added bonus of spending time together and sharing ideas, hopes, goals for our own farmsteads. It was one of those events where you can’t help but be present and fully engrossed. I left feeling revitalized, with a renewed dedication to goals I had put on hold as life has gotten in the way lately.

I want to share something, though, that has been weighing on me lately. Consider it a confession, of sorts.

A speaker Saturday asked how many people there “live in the country.” I raised my hand, thinking about the fresh asparagus, radishes, and sugar snap peas I relish every spring from our early gardens and envisioned summer evenings on our front porch, listening to the sounds of our farmstead after the work of the day is done. I added notes to my mental to-do list about how we need to get the tractor out and blade the hill on our gravel drive again after the last heavy rain, how the pond levee is still leaking, and that we need to start processing some of our downed trees to keep our woodstove going this winter. I thought about how our livestock guardian dogs protected our goats from a bobcat earlier in the week and the wild turkeys that come in to stare at our domestic birds.

But then I looked over at my friend, who has a very similar property. Her eyebrows went up, almost questioning… or was I just imaging that? In that moment, I remembered that technically our farm is squarely set in a rapidly growing suburban area. Based on address alone, you would never consider us living in the country.

And this is where my conundrum lies. Does “country” have to mean rural? Let’s talk about the dichotomy.

While my husband and I both grew up in much more rural areas (his hometown had a population of 114 in the last census), we are far from rural these days. We have five feed stores and dozens of grocery options within a 30-ish minute drive. I’m 22 miles from the nearest international airport and have the address of a small city (home to roughly 50,000 people) on the outskirts of one of the top 25 most populated cities in the US. There is no denying the convenience – and traffic – in this area.

But that doesn’t tell the full story, does it? Our address doesn’t tell you that we raise cattle, hogs, goats, turkeys, and chickens for our family and others. Looking on a map you’d probably be surprised that we harvest deer on our property or that we dehydrate, can, freeze, and otherwise preserve hundreds of pounds of local fruits and vegetables each year.

Our zip code doesn’t clue you in that we prefer to make things from scratch… pie crusts and biscuits get made fresh, we bake our own bread, and have even started making yogurt. It doesn’t take into account that we (okay, my husband) rebuilt our 55 year old tractor in our home shop or that we like to keep traditional skills alive with our kids by doing things like making mullein stalk torches, black walnut ink, and turkey feather quills.

Driving over black walnut hulls may be easier, but this method wins for being fun!

No where does it share that we forage wild plants, grow the majority of our own herbs, make our own teas, tinctures, and salves, or that our newest vehicle is a 7 year old diesel truck for hauling livestock feed and towing our trailers. It has nearly 200,000 miles on it, but that’s nothing compared to my Excursion. It has seen two decades and 487,000 miles (and climbing). As close as we are to the city, no one told the internet providers because “high speed” internet was limited to Hughes Net satellite and cell phone hot spots until 2020.

We don’t fit the common image of a suburban family. So I ask again, does “living in the country” have to mean rural?

I’m in a few groups where a concerning trend comes up a couple times a year. There seems to be a general consensus that people who live in areas that are closer to larger urban centers are somehow less country or less capable of farming and homesteading.

Thankfully, I see the fallacy in that mindset on a daily basis… not only on our own farmstead, but in so many others who are spurring the incredible resurgence and popularity of the homesteading lifestyle.

This weekend I drove through some truly rural areas. There were miles where we wouldn’t see any fields growing crops, livestock, gardens, or even any fruit-bearing trees. I’m not judging, but reminding folks that just living in a rural area doesn’t automatically mean everyone farms or homesteads.

Forget your zip code, to me living in the country is a mindset.

My husband likes to say everyone wants to be country until it’s time to do country things. Because, let’s face it, it can be a lot of work. Let’s stop shaming people because they may have an urban or suburban homestead and start celebrating the fact that they are taking more control over their local food systems. Let’s provide mentorship and support and recognize that we can all do country things, even in areas that may not (from the outside) look like the romanticized version of a farm.

Go forth and prosper friends, whatever your zip code. And if you ever need a word of encouragement in your homesteading or farming journey, drop us a line. FarrowFamilyFarmstead@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

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Preparing for Rain

The sun is shining, the sky is a striking blue, and out of nowhere a strong gust of wind foretells the front moving our way. We’ve been preparing this week, trying to get ahead of the weather as our place is still soaked from the last round. But being able to prepare hasn’t always been easy.

Let me bring you back to our starter home- a cozy, one bedroom log cabin in a rural valley. The lack of cell phone service, internet options, and TV reinforced the peace and quiet. Did I mention quiet? We’re talking standing on the tractor to try checking voicemail, let alone attempt a call, quiet.

We managed to pick up one major TV network with our antennae… on most days. When a dedicated weather channel popped up, it was a game changer. We no longer had to remember to check the forecast while we were in town or worry about missing the news, could watch live radar when storms were rolling through, and actually plan which days would be the better weather for working outside! This may not seem like much, but it was definitely a small win. I distinctly remember being glued to that channel as we watched water inch closer to our home during the 2010 flood.

Fast forward a few (okay, quite a few) years… we now live high on a hill above a much smaller creek, have our own home weather station with an interior display panel, access to all the major TV networks, and weather apps on our phones. Instead of worrying about finding the forecast, we weigh the different predictions and try to determine which meteorologist is sensationalizing incoming weather the least.

Why care?

Planning ahead helps us minimize muddy ruts in our field that need to be repaired like this.

It’s winter in Tennessee and one thing is certain- we’re going to have rain. For us, knowing the forecast helps us plan ahead. Our animals still need to be fed and chores done, but part of stewarding our land is minimizing our impact- and that means treading lightly when the ground is saturated.

So much of managing a homestead is planning around weather- using the tractor to move round bales now to avoid tracking up fields, taking inventory of your grain stores so you don’t risk hauling wet feed, assessing the forage left in portable electric netting areas to determine if you need to move them now or can wait until the ground dries up, waiting to plant anything that may stay too wet or get too cold, adding heat lamps for sensitive animals during the coldest snaps, and adjusting your plans to complete indoor projects on rainy days.

Bringing home hay for our goats on a dry day.

My list keeps growing. What’s on your rainy day to-do list?

Breaking Bread

Warm, freshly baked bread is one of my weaknesses. Can you picture it, tempting you as it cools? Rolls, loaves, baguettes, quick, yeasted, sourdough, enriched, I love it all and the warmth it brings to my kitchen.

A recent sourdough loaf waiting to be sliced.

A kitchen can be a magical place, but if it’s anything like mine, there are gadgets, books, appliances, spices, and artwork scattered throughout. A few summers ago, laughing about the clutter on my countertop and woeful housekeeping, my friend Dani chided me for apologizing and put things in perspective-

“I’m always more comfortable in homes where you can tell people really live in them and build their life there.”

The truth of the matter is, I’m most comfortable in homes that are “lived in” as well.

Forget Instagram perfect pictures, our kitchen is often cluttered with honey filtering, preserved foods to be stored on shelves, and herbs drying.

Walking into a home with personality shares little pieces of your story. It often reminds me that while life can be messy, it is also beautiful… and let’s face it, we built our counter top to be used, not to sit empty as a statement piece.

Last month that summer conversation came flooding back. We traveled to the home of a relatively new family to the area and after realizing a shared love of bread, I found myself in a new kitchen. The tables had turned and I was the one being offered apologies for a family simply utilizing their space. From the seasonings on the counter to the dishes drying, books, and beautiful tea pots, I felt at home. I appreciated the conversation starters that came from just taking in the space around me.

It’s a gift to your guests to share a small part of your story, don’t feel guilty for that.

Remember that early profession about bread? Criss had a beautifully braided loaf for us and indulged my questions about her sourdough, baked a fresh loaf to sample, and even shared her starter and recipe. I knew I was in a good place.

There is a simple beauty in connecting through authentic conversation and spontaneous laughter. In the end, we left with not only an edible work of art and thoughtful gift, but a sense of community… all because new friends opened their kitchen to us. Don’t underestimate the power of simply breaking bread with someone.

Under Pressure… Life Lessons from the Kitchen

Do you remember the first time you successfully used a pressure canner?

Did you careful comb the instructions, checking the weights for the third time and the steps for the fifth? Did you feel anxious as you impatiently watched for steam, fascinated, but hesitant to get too close?

Did you feel trepidation when the pressure began to build and hiss out around the air lock, wondering if you should turn the heat down? Did you momentarily panic… asking yourself, “Is that supposed to happen? How long should it take?”

Did you cringe a little inside thinking perhaps you didn’t put the seal in correctly, forgot a step, or worse yet… had a faulty canner and were sure to have it explode in front of you at any moment?  

Did you peer from around the safety of the refrigerator door, silently praying that the air vent popped and that the lid was locked before the entire contents took out your microwave and spewed across your kitchen?

Did you stare at the pressure regulator, hearing the pressure of the boil and willing it to rock so you could start your timer? Did you jump back, startled, the first time it lurched?  

Do you remember how quickly the rhythmic rock became background noise as you went about your day? Or the moment when you reached over the pot for the first time without worrying about it… and how the familiarity of it all took you by surprise?

I do.

Tonight I opened a jar of our homemade stock and thought about how many years I missed out on these small comforts (and precious freezer space) out of fear and doubt.

Let’s face it, pressure canning can be intimidating.

For years I convinced myself that I was satisfied making pickles, salsa, jams, and jellies. I told myself it was just as easy to freeze stock and vegetables out of the garden. It got to the point that my husband joked about taking his life into his own hands opening any of the freezers (yes I’m spoiled), knowing that at least one carefully placed item would likely fall and that he would never be able to fit the puzzle pieces back together in the same way for the door to close again.

All of that changed after catching up with an old friend with a passion for #puttingfoodby. It’s amazing what a handful of conversations and a friend willing to act as a mentor can do for your self-confidence. Armed with her recommendations, we purchased our first pressure canner and found a new sense of pride in both mastering a daunting piece of equipment and stocking our shelves with a greater variety of winter stores. Sure, it’s not the flashiest new toy, but learning a new skill is worth celebrating!

As I see people sharing resolutions and goals for themselves in the New Year, I keep thinking about what a difference we can make on the lives of others, in ways big and small. Janet probably has no idea the difference our conversations made in pushing me to finally attempt canning low acid foods or the sense of accomplishment that came with it. What an incredible gift to share with someone. Her willingness to acknowledge my fears and ease my hesitations, despite how silly they may have seemed from her vantage point, empowered me to see past my own self-doubt. That is a small win that I celebrate every time I open something I’ve pressure canned at home.

Those little kindnesses, frequently overlooked and taken for granted, are often the very things that keep us moving forward.

They say one of the greatest gifts you can give others is your time, but don’t underestimate the difference small investments can make. Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of your day to completely change someone else’s.

Is there anything better than receiving a surprise care package of homemade goodies? This small gesture and ample supply of homemade candy made our Christmas a few years ago.

Gift a jar of jam or some of your favorite (or least favorite for that matter) homemade candy. Share your friend’s small business post or leave a positive review. Take the time to be a sounding board for your partner’s latest project ideas…. even if you know they may not last more than 48 hours. Send a note to someone when you’re thinking of them. Shop local and learn the stories of those working to grow your community. Get excited about a friend’s new hobby, even if you only ever see pictures on social media. Privately cheer others on as they struggle with an unexpected burden or life change. Act as a resource for someone. Be a mentor. Open up a new realm of possibilities for someone, just like Janet did for me.

Forget making another resolution, make connections this year.

Welcome

Life on the farmstead is an adventure. Some days you’re trying new things, others you stop to enjoy the view, and then there are the days you stumble on the trail and your biggest accomplishment is just picking yourself up and continuing on... This is a place where we celebrate it all.

The whole family gets involved in farm chores and wildcrafting, like collecting these black walnuts.

Join me in celebrating simple lifestyles, returning to old ways, and reconnecting with the natural world around us. From adventures in pressure canning to sourdough starter fails, I’m not afraid to share what’s worked – and hasn’t – on our farm.

Do you share a love of cottage gardens, fuzzy cows, and wildflowers? Great! Let’s build a community where we can share and support each other. Want to learn more? Check out our online learning community at farmsteadfavorites.thinkific.com.

Fresh peppermint is a welcome addition to our farm, but don’t make the mistake I did… plant it in a pot, not your herb garden!