By Jackie Clay-Atkinson

Issue #134 • March/April, 2012

We’ve all been there: the roof is leaking on your temporary housing while you try to build a start on your new homestead. It’s rained for a week now and everyone in the family is getting on each other’s nerves. The goats you bought came yesterday and are now huddled under a leaky tarp, nibbling on some old hay because the guy who said he’d deliver hay two days ago didn’t show up and you can’t find another farmer selling hay nearby. The horses ran away from their temporary pasture this morning and you are freezing and soaking wet from chasing them down before an irate neighbor finds them. The check you expected from the sale of your former home didn’t come in the mail yesterday, and you’re wondering how you can make two more payments on your new place without it — besides paying for the building materials that are supposed to be delivered tomorrow. The kids want to go shopping for new “toys” and are complaining about living way out in the sticks without cable … or even running water. You pull the pillow over your head and silently wish you could run away.

Such scenarios are not uncommon when a family moves to a new homestead. In fact, they are very common, and are the leading reason many new homesteaders who moved onto new land fail and return to the city. It’s called stress, and in extreme cases it’s called homestead burnout.

Homestead burnout doesn’t always happen right away when a family moves to a new homestead. In fact, it’s more commonly seen after a few years of homestead living and mounting disappointments.

I’ve frequently heard the glowing dreams from folks who are on the brink of moving to a new homestead: “We’re going to build a cabin in the woods, homeschool our children, grow all our own food, cut our own wood to heat our cabin, have lots of animals (goats, chickens, cows, horses, dogs, and cats), make our own clothes, spin yarn, knit, weave, make soap, cheese, and sell crafts. We’re going to live off the land!”

I wholeheartedly applaud such dreams, for in these dreams is woven the lifeblood of the homesteader, us included. While some families do succeed in flying after this ambitious dream, far more flop, fail, and return to the city with their dreams crushed, feeling like a total failure. Why?

There is no one reason. Like the threads of the dream, they are all intertwined. But there are some common causes and it’s a good thing for all homesteaders — even would-be homesteaders and “old-timers” — to think about and guard against.

Here I am, tilling up the rough, new little garden next to our “camping trailer” old mobile home while Mom looks on. Notice I’m using our second TroyBilt Horse rototiller.

Do I really enjoy working?

This may seem like a stupid question (does anyone truly like to work?), but think about it. Are you the kind of person who works at a job around home and then goes back in the evening or the next day to look with satisfaction and enjoyment at what you accomplished? Can you stick at a project until it is finished, despite glitches and holdups? Would you rather stay home and pull weeds in the garden than run to the mall shopping or go four-wheeling with the boys? Sounds like you? Great! But don’t try to do too much, all at once.

Do you depend on a man or woman to help you fulfill your homesteading desires? Sure it’s wonderful to have a like-minded helper at your side building barns and goat fences, planting and harvesting a garden, tending sick animals and children, helping patch leaking roofs, doing chores when you’re sick with the flu, and complimenting you on your meals from home-raised foods.

But can you homestead without this? I did for most of my life. My late husband, Bob, agreed with the homestead lifestyle, liked fresh, wholesome food, and enjoyed the animals, but he wasn’t a guy who enjoyed work. If I asked, he’d help, but I did what I could do alone or with the help of my youngest son, David (who is also an enthusiastic homesteader). Was it frustrating? Yes, at times. But Bob was a good husband, and although our homesteading life progressed pretty slow at times, it did progress. And I got better and better at doing things by myself.

Don’t think that when you move to a homestead, your man, woman, or children will suddenly blossom and become the perfect homesteaders just because you hope they will. It’s better to plan on homesteading yourself, as a “hobby” and way-of-life you enjoy, much as you would if you took up golfing, skiing, or boating. Happily doing something you love, although alone, sure beats being frustrated, angry, and hurt every day because you expected help from an enthusiastic partner in your homesteading venture.

Encourage young children to “help” around the homestead and show them that you value their help. As they grow older, include them in planning and decision making. At left, my youngest son, David, age 2, is “helping” us add a kitchen to our small cabin way up in the mountains of Montana. At right, after “helping” for several years as a young child, at age 12 David is really helping by nailing down roof boards on our goat shed.


Most of us move into a homesteading lifestyle with some expectations of what it will be like. For instance, all of us have heard how wonderful country people are: helpful, kind, having “traditional” values, hard-working, peace-loving, etc. And we hope to enjoy friendship with our neighbors even though they might not live all that close.

But country folk are often people raised for generations in that area, and they are often very leery of “newcomers.”

Why? There are a lot of reasons. New homesteaders are often from the city and are usually educated beyond high school. They’ve read a lot about organic gardening and animal raising and have formed opinions — strong ones, at that. Unfortunately, they often expound their theories to old-timers and seem to be “talking down” to “uneducated hicks.” The old-timers quickly back away and keep a good distance from the new folks … and as they tell their friends and neighbors about the arrogant city people that moved in, isolation quickly forms.

You have a vision of what your new rural lifestyle will be, but be gentle about what you say to your neighbors about it. Your ideas are probably pretty much “mainstream” ideas. If you plan on homeschooling, for instance, and are asked about why you are going to do this, simply say, “We have thought about it for a long time and just want to be involved with our children’s education.” Don’t go off on a tangent, no matter how strongly you feel about the subject, about “the dumbing down of America’s children,” how bad public schools are today, etc. It may be true, but it may make you seem arrogant and “know-it-all” to your new neighbors.

Just like the delicate topics of politics and religion, it’s wise to carefully guard your talk around your new neighbors until you get to know them well.

Instead, ask questions: Who has hay for sale in the neighborhood, where can you find a pile of old rotted manure, when do you plant your garden, what kind of squash grow well here, etc. All of these questions are of value and let the old-timer shine as they advise you. And it lets them know that you value their knowledge.

Likewise, never talk about a neighbor or other person you have met or about how awful a place looks to one of your neighbors. It may be a relative or close friend of theirs.

It takes a while to become part of a new community. Don’t rush it and don’t expect it. Go slow and build good relationships as you go. In rural areas, you are judged first by how honest you are, and second by how hard a worker you are. If you are honest with your neighbors (pay when you say you will, help when you say you will, etc.) and they see you are working hard on your new place, you’ll slowly move up in their eyes.

Some things that irk old-timers are: letting your dogs run loose through the neighborhood (they are a nuisance and can kill neighbors’ small stock and poultry), having livestock that gets out frequently (poor facilities and fencing on your part make your livestock a nuisance to neighbors and can tear down their fences), having newcomers that continually ask for help or the loan of tools and equipment (it’s better to tough it out or offer to pay than have neighbors who feel used), or trespassing on neighbor’s land to hunt, fish, or hike.

Things you can do to speed up the process of getting “in” with the neighbors are joining a local small church, helping with volunteer projects in the area, joining a nearby garden club, volunteering at your children’s school, or helping at the local food bank. You’d be amazed at how much fun you have getting to know the “locals.” Drop off some baked goods, ripe tomatoes, or jam with a neighbor who has done you a good turn. If a neighbor helps you out, even in a small way, be sure to thank them wholeheartedly. Soon you’ll feel less alone and maybe you’ll find a new friend who also is homesteading and would be more than happy to trade work with you so you can both accomplish more.

Do remember that in rural areas, just like in the city, there are dishonest people, “users,” know-it-alls, and gossips. Use sensible caution in forming friendships.

On a bigger homestead, some larger equipment is a huge help; here Will uses our crawler to position used power poles in place for our new storage building.  The dozer also cleared pastures, hauled firewood, cleared our property line, enlarged our spring catchment basin, dug out stumps and boulders, leveled building sites, and a hundred other huge jobs.

Overwhelmed by work

Unfortunately, not many people who are wannabe homesteaders actually know how much actual work it is. The homestead dream takes work, and plenty of it. Sometimes it’s a huge shock to find this out. Don’t try to do too much at one time.

Establishing a homestead and getting it running smoothly takes time. It also requires money, material, and experience. The less money and time you have to put into your homestead, the slower the “building” phase of the homesteading experience will go. If you do have a nest egg of saved money, be very careful how you spend it, as it is all too soon gone. Remember that it also takes plenty of experience to establish your homestead and get it running smoothly. In the “old days” people grew up learning homestead skills nearly from birth. So when they went off on their own, they already could chop wood; drive a team; raise pigs; chickens; and cows; till the soil; harvest crops; sew clothes; bake bread; put up food; and much more … all with minimal tools and conveniences.

What would my grandmothers say if they looked in the gardening catalogs I get every day about all those fancy things you simply need to buy, in order to grow your own food? Their generation had a spade, maybe a potato fork, a hoe, and plenty of gumption. They didn’t have a turning plastic compost bin, no self-watering grow boxes, plastic raised beds, purple gardening gloves, or flowered $75 boots. They had experience learned from their parents and grandparents instead.

Instead of buying 50 chicks to butcher in the fall, buy 10 and get experience in raising and butchering those. Then, if it goes well, get a few more the following year until you have found what works best for your family. Instead of buying a lot of animals and poultry, first build housing for them, taking your time to do it right. If you don’t get it done in a year, there’s always the next year. Instead of buying 10 goats to milk, buy one and get to know how to care for, milk, and handle that one.

Don’t rush out and buy a horse, or bring home four stray kittens, or get a dog for each of the kids, and then buy geese for the yard. Make sure you have facilities for the horse, have had some experience caring for and riding horses (or have a very willing relative or neighbor to help you learn), have facilities for cats … and the means to have them neutered or you’ll soon be overrun with “cute” kittens, and have a pen for the geese (they’ll poop on the porch and bite the UPS driver).

While a good dog or cat is always a benefit on a homestead (as is our Lab, Spencer, who carries in firewood), having too many pets quickly becomes expensive and frustrating.

If you get too many animals too soon, there’ll come a day that the family is down with the flu and nobody wants to go feed, water, or milk. Or the bill at the feed store tops your grocery bill, and money’s suddenly tight. Suddenly, you are struck with how much of a responsibility you’ve taken on and how it’s strangling you. No longer is it fun to go feed the animals; you’re teetering on the brink of homesteader burnout.


Likewise, moving onto a place with no buildings or a house in sad shape and in need of renovation is a chancy thing. Some folks thrive on it. Others are overwhelmed with the work and privation necessary before the good times roll. Living in a camping trailer, RV, or tipi can get pretty tedious unless your family is totally committed to the new homestead-in-progress. A whining partner or children can further complicate emotions. In good weather, “camping out” is great. In icy cold, it’s not so fun.

When we moved to northern Minnesota, the sale of our Montana homestead dragged on and on until it finally went through in January. Imagine moving across North Dakota in February with horses, goats, a household, and two trucks onto raw land without even road access. It was -24° F when the fellow we hired to bulldoze our trail plowed through three feet of snow so we could reach our land and park our camping trailer. Even I thought, “What was I ever thinking?”

And camp we did, in a 30-foot camping trailer with a small 8×10 fish house attached for a living room. My oldest son helped haul our trailer in and got the fish house attached and propane heater going, then called at 7 a.m. the next morning to see if we survived the night. We camped like this all winter.

Once we were set up, I knew we’d be okay: we had left the horses at a friend’s nearby farm to board for the remainder of the winter, the goats were happy in the enclosed livestock trailer with lots of hay, and we were very used to “rough” camping. But a lot of new homesteaders with no experience would not have survived, physically or emotionally. Don’t put yourself into a situation that is beyond your capabilities.

To avoid debt, and the crushing stress it causes, we are building our home and outbuildings one section at a time, as we can afford it.

Avoiding debt

When building a new homestead from scratch, keep in mind that everything takes at least twice as long to do and costs about four times as much. This is just the way it is. Try to be frugal about your building projects. We are constantly figuring ways to cut our building costs and yet have what we need.

For instance, much of our original building material (windows, lumber, fencing) came from the dump. Now we’re building newer buildings to replace the temporary ones, but we are still being as frugal as possible. Our new storage building with hayloft was built out of used power poles that we got for free and plenty of logs from our own woods. With the money we saved we were able to buy the OSB for the walls and roof, plus the metal roofing.

We also only build what we can afford with the cash on hand. Even our house was built one stage at a time, as we could afford it. Debt causes stress and new homesteaders have enough stress without the overwhelming burden of debt.

I was building our house as a recently-widowed mom of a teenage son as well as caretaker of my elderly parents. Cash was tight, so I only bought two windows a month. Plastic was over the other windows. Likewise, I didn’t have enough money to insulate or shingle the roof. Instead of going into debt to finish it before winter set in, we covered the tongue and groove 2×6 roof with heavy construction tarps and called it good. We were a little cold upstairs; when it got to -25° F, there was frost on the ceiling of my bedroom. But downstairs, we kept warm. When spring came, I was not in debt, and used what money I had managed to save to add insulation and finish off the roof, one side at a time.

We handle our livestock buildings the same way. The first “barn” we built was for the goats and chickens. Built almost exclusively from material from the dump, it is ugly. Unable to level the building site because of the frozen ground and tree roots, it is not level or plumb. But we only had four goats and a few chickens, so it worked out very well. It would have been a disaster if we had a dozen goats and 50 chickens.

By keeping livestock and poultry numbers down, you can afford to feed them and get more enjoyment. Here’s Buffy, one of our initial milkers. By having only a few milking does, I have the time and energy to make yogurt, ice cream, and cheese.

Limit livestock

I was careful not to get too many goats and chickens, so as not to be overwhelmed with care and to over-crowd our modest facilities. I feel this is extremely important for homesteaders. Getting too many animals is very easy to do; suddenly you have 20 goats, can’t afford to feed them well, start having health issues in the herd, are tired of watering, cleaning, feeding, and even milking them.

But even if you keep your animals or poultry at manageable levels, some days you just plain get tired. Or you want to go somewhere for the weekend for a family event, but you’re “stuck” with all those animals and all that work. Can’t go. So you’re disappointed and a bit angry.

How do you head that off? As you become established in an area, take time to get acquainted with like-minded people. Volunteer to do their chores if they need help for a day or weekend. It’s just part of being a good neighbor and fitting in with a rural community. When they offer to pay you, decline and ask if they would do the same for you sometime. This works out very well. Right now, we’re watching our neighbor’s place while he and his wife are in San Diego, attending a friend’s 50th wedding anniversary. Everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve done this and know that if we need — or want — to go somewhere, one of our friends will babysit our place as well.

Don’t be afraid to stop working for a day or two and take mini-vacations. Everyone needs a few days off — even (or especially) homesteaders. Otherwise, it becomes a grind instead of an enjoyable lifestyle. Even taking the family on a camping trip to a nearby National Forest, going fishing for a weekend — whatever gives you pleasure and relaxation — is invaluable to saving your sanity.

Some days, I’ll even go out in our travel trailer with a good book and curl up on the bed, open a window, and “escape” for a couple of hours. It hurts nothing … all that work will still be waiting for you when you get back at it. But your mood will have lightened and you’ll go at it with increased vigor. Having a neighbor or friend who will watch your place enables you to go away without worry or guilt. And sometimes even just knowing you aren’t trapped relaxes you so you don’t even need to leave the farm.

Share an animal; share the work

Something that often helps relieve homestead stress is to share an animal or share the work. For instance, we plan on buying a milk cow when we have our new barn built and ready. As our homestead is getting “older” and more established, I find I have a bit more “free” time now, so I want to make lots of cheese again.

But having a milk cow will certainly tie us down; you have to milk a cow twice a day, every day. In the past, I’ve gotten around this by keeping her calf and letting it suck after I had milked all the milk I planned on keeping each milking. When I was sick or had to be away, I simply left the cow and calf together in a pen. The calf did the “milking” for me.

My friend, Jeri, has a smaller homestead and does not have room for a cow, but she, too, is interested in making cheese and butter. So I told her I’d share my cow with her and let her have whatever milk she needed. In return, she volunteered to milk and care for our cow (as well as our other animals), if we needed to be away for a day or two or if we were sick. Believe me, sharing a cow sure makes sense.

Likewise, you could “share” chickens or about any other homestead animal or even the garden. For instance, Jeri and I both wanted to buy Cornish Rock broiler chicks. She is on grid and we are off. Brooding chicks is difficult for me, yet easy for her. So we agreed that I would buy all the chick feed for both small batches. In return, she would brood and care for my chicks until they were feathered out and could survive without a heat lamp.

With a garden, you could share the work and seeds with a friend and both reap the benefits from the harvest. Sharing work and cash always relieves the stress leading to homestead burnout. Even ordering seeds can be a shared experience that is also frugal, as well. For instance, most times, two packages of seeds costs less, if ordered together, than separately. Then you have the shipping cost. My friend and I often order seeds together, then split the shipping (which is now often quite high). We have fun talking about all the different varieties we plan on growing, and we share growing experiences and save plenty of cash along the way.

Even a wheelbarrow makes hauling compost, manure, and mulch much easier and pleasurable. Here, I’m spreading mulch along corn rows in our garden.

Don’t plant too much

My biggest problem with gardening is keeping the garden to a manageable size. Even with decades of growing experience, I still want to plant more than I can always care for well. If all goes well during a growing season, you can usually manage to handle all that bounty that you were a bit unwise in planting. But if something turns out “not ideal” … like Will and me falling off the barn roof last summer, suddenly that huge garden seems like a rock around your neck in a sea of depression.

It’s always better to plant a smaller, more manageable garden, especially when you are new to a homestead, than a huge one that ends up weed-choked and unproductive. Like everything around the homestead, the longer you are there, the better things will get. At first you might have tons of rocks and roots in the new garden, or perennial grasses, thistles, or other weeds to contend with. No matter how much you hoe and pull, you can’t seem to get ahead of them. But with good gardening, plenty of mulch, and green manure crops, slowly you’ll get control of your garden. Then, you can expand it a little at a time, until it is as large as you need.

Of course, I didn’t follow my own advice. When we first came to our new homestead, my oldest son, Bill, brought his crawler up and cleared off a 20×40-foot spot next to our camping trailer. One day it was young poplar trees, brush, stumps, and rocks, the next it was a cleared, albeit rock-strewn, garden plot. I did well with that little garden, despite undergoing surgery, radiation, and chemo for cancer.

The next spring, he again brought a crawler and tractor up to backfill around our new log cabin basement. He also cleared a 50×50-foot spot near the new house site. Despite all the other cabin-building work, it was still small enough to be planted and cared for well.

But in the next two years, we cleared double that. I was still busy with Mom and the house-building, and the garden suffered. Yes, it did provide nearly all our food, but it was no longer beautiful. I was able to keep some areas clean and mulched; others got away from me and became weedy beyond belief.

Now, I’m homesteading with Will and, fortunately, he’s a true homesteader at heart. Having enthusiastic, experienced help makes everything a whole lot easier.

Don’t discount kids as homesteading partners

The proverb says, “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” This is wise advice to homesteading parents in all aspects of living. If we parents make time to show our children how much fun homesteading is, especially when they are little and “not much help,” it’s amazing how soon they will become a whole lot of help.

By letting children “help” in the garden, by planting their own little patch of “fun” vegetables — such as giant pumpkins, green beans, or sunflowers — they will soon grow to love gardening.

Having children help you raise baby chicks, gather eggs, milk a goat, or help feed calves, will make them feel like a part of the homestead. Take time to talk to them about your projects and listen to their ideas and comments. Some of my best projects included “tips” from my children. Just the enthusiastic company of your children in the garden or around the house, helping bake, prepare food for canning, sewing, etc., can make your life much more enjoyable.

Single parents, whether “single” by a spouse in the service, an

on-the-road trucker, hardworking professional, divorce, or death, can all benefit by a young homesteading partner. And this young person doesn’t even have to be your child. They can be your grandchild or even a neighboring child. It’s simply amazing, but having an enthusiastic child around the homestead helps get things done in short order. My youngest son, David, started homesteading with me at birth, and grew up to be a tremendous help. David still helps plant and harvest the garden. He helped build our cabin when I was slowed down with the cancer bout. Now he drives huge tractors, bulldozers, and can do jobs I can’t.

A pickup is invaluable on most homesteads. Here, we are hauling split firewood from our pile to stack in the woodshed for winter. We also haul manure, compost, rocks, lumber, fencing, and plow our mile-long driveway with our truck.

Helpful tools to make homesteading easier

While you can homestead as a Luddite, rejecting all modern conveniences, some of them sure make homesteading easier. If you want to move a pile of compost to the garden, dragging it on a child’s plastic toboggan is much easier on your back. And if you have a whole lot of compost, a wheelbarrow is much faster. Or, if you can afford it, buy a wood/aluminum frame two-wheeled garden cart. I did this more than 25 years ago, and I still have the same cart. I use it almost daily to carry firewood, manure, compost, rocks, hay, and straw. By tipping it on its nose, I can pick up and carry something much heavier than I can pick up myself (big rocks, a potted or balled tree, big chunks of firewood, etc.). I have even loaded and carried railroad ties, fence posts, and the canoe on it. It has two wheels, so it does not tip over like a wheelbarrow does, which makes it is easier on your back.

A two-wheeled moving dolly is another thing that we find tons of uses for on our homestead. It also takes the strain off your back and can move a huge assortment of heavy and bulky objects. Heavy stumps or firewood blocks are a piece of cake with the moving dolly. We haul railroad ties around, wheeling them into place for fence posts or raised beds. I use it to move 100-pound sacks of feed from the truck to the feed room, eliminating any lifting. Moving stoves, dryers, refrigerators, furniture, and tools is a breeze with this little cart. I’ve used it to stack building material and even sheets of plywood and OSB, to haul to a building site. When you’re working alone, a couple of rubber bungee cords help a lot to secure your load. Best of all, these moving dollies are inexpensive; we got ours on sale at Northern Tool for $25, and it’s now 20 years old. It’s also helped us move twice. Heavy boxes stack very well on them and can be hauled right into a truck.

A good, smaller chainsaw is a must on most homesteads. I have an older, heavy, very powerful saw, but it gets me in the back to use it for long periods of time. So now I’ve found that a good quality saw with a 16-inch bar works nearly as well and saves my back a lot of pain. I’ve used our saw not only to cut firewood, clear land, and cut down trees, but also to help in building our house, barn, storage building; to cut fence posts and corner braces, and even to build furniture. (I built a hutch using only a chainsaw and it was a pretty hutch, too.) Learn to use it safely, and a chainsaw will be your friend for life. Yes, they’re noisy and smelly, but you can do an incredible amount of work in short order with one.

A good rototiller is invaluable on homesteads. While you can certainly spade a garden with a shovel or garden fork, as my grandmothers did, working up soil in anything but raised beds is so much easier and faster with a rototiller.

My first rototiller was an old front-tine Sears and Roebuck that had seen better days. But it was cheap and it did till the ground enough to plant a garden. Better than nothing, for sure. But after a few years, I was ready to move up to something better. After my friend, Carolyn, loaned me her TroyBilt 8-horse rear-tine tiller one spring, I was sold. After just a couple of passes in my garden, I vowed to own one. I saved all summer and when fall rolled around, I ordered my very own TroyBilt Horse and I used it for 25 years before it wore out. Now I have a newer version of the same “animal” and I love that one, as well.

A rear-tine tiller not only works the soil much more thoroughly than a front-tine tiller, but it also leaves the soil fluffy and light … and your back feels much nicer. Those front-tine tillers are hell on the back. If you can’t afford a new rear-tine tiller, you can usually find them used for less than half-price in the newspaper or on Craigslist.

Still can’t afford a big tiller? I also bought a little Mantis tiller many years ago. It, too, is invaluable in the garden, and also in my raised beds and flower beds. It’s like holding onto a mad weasel. It really, really digs. I used to think something so small couldn’t possibly be useful, but I use mine nearly every day in the summer, cultivating between plants, weeding rows that have become too narrow due to growing plants, and tilling new beds for succession planting. It even digs holes for fruit trees and berry bushes. A Mantis is around $300 new, but you can usually find a very nice used one for half that or less.

A pickup truck or trailer you can pull with your current vehicle is practically indispensable. We use a truck and/or trailer nearly every week. We’ve hauled hay, manure, compost, calves, goats, rocks, straw bales, mulch, sawdust, firewood, lumber, feed, and equipment, to name only a few uses. While Dad never owned a pickup, he did drive a station wagon and owned a two-axle trailer he’d built. He used that trailer for everything, including moving a cabin, built in sections, to our land “up north.”

We have several trailers, each for different uses, which all come in handy from time to time. One of my favorites is a little “lawn and garden” metal trailer with a dump box that we can pull with our old riding lawnmower-turned-tractor. I use that to clean the goat barn and chicken coop because it’s small enough to back right in. I use it to haul mulch and compost to the garden, rocks out of the garden, fencing and posts down to the garden, and crops back out of the garden, come fall. I haul square bales of hay down to the horse pasture, feed to the barn, lumber, hoses, small equipment like our gas-powered water pump, small amounts of firewood, and even children around the homestead in a mini-hay ride.

On a larger homestead (40 acres or more), larger equipment makes things go much easier. Yes, you can clear land with an ax and team of oxen, as our forefathers did, but we found that a little bulldozer does more work in a fraction of the time.

While still a single lady homesteader, I heard of a great deal on a 1010 John Deere crawler and went to look. It was in great shape and had been well maintained, but I knew I couldn’t maintain and repair a bulldozer myself. I asked our carpenter friend, Tom, who had helped build our house, if he would be willing to do maintenance and repairs on it if he could use it on his homestead, also in need of development. He quickly agreed. So I bought “Old Yeller,” who soon became a member of the family.

Likewise, a small tractor is nearly a necessity on a larger homestead. While you can buy a great mid-sized four-wheel-drive “hobby farm”

With a chainsaw and the knowledge to use it, not only can you cut firewood to keep warm, but you can also build fence corners, as shown here in our goat pasture.

tractor with a loader, such as a Kubota, brand new or lightly used, it’s probably out of most homesteaders’ reach. I feel that a well-maintained old tractor with loader, such as our Ford 660, which we bought for $4,000, is a much better buy. The 660 has a gravel bucket so we can dig and haul manure, compost, dirt, and gravel with ease. We’ve filled raised beds, composted the garden, hauled cement blocks, power poles for our building projects, rocks, firewood, and more. We’ve also plowed, disked, and harrowed our pastures and the gardens. In the winter they move a lot of snow.

You can find a good used tractor even cheaper than our 660; I’ve seen many for around $1,800 with a loader.

Be prepared

One of the easiest ways to avoid homestead burnout is by staying prepared. Every homesteader has an “oh no!” moment. That’s life. You go to start the chainsaw to cut firewood and it won’t start. But if you’ve got a shed nearly full of wood for winter and it’s only September, the “Oh my God!” moment won’t affect you as much as if it’s 10 p.m., a blizzard is blowing, and you must cut firewood tonight or freeze.

Make preparedness a way of life. It’s not just having a lot of food in the pantry, having a gun and ammo in the closet, having a grab-and-git bag packed in the corner. It means continually thinking ahead, planning and working, to keep from being caught in a bad situation. Think, “What could happen if…,” and then act on it.

Winter comes. I think God gave us spring, summer, and fall to prepare us for winter. Yes, preparedness (not only for winter) does take planning and sometimes hard work. But when winter, drought, sickness, or whatever happens, you can tough it out and feel good about the work and planning you have done.

I’d say preparedness is the absolute key to avoiding homestead burnout. If you thoroughly prepare for every step of homesteading, from finding the perfect property to building it up to be a productive and enjoyable homestead, you’ll avoid most of the pitfalls that cause homestead burnout. After all, homesteading should be the most enjoyable experience of your entire life. I know it is for me.


  1. Some days you just have to accept that you have done your best. Not all the work gets done and you just hope it is “good enough”.

  2. So true and wise.This article should be “must” reading. I definitely made a ton of mistakes when I started out; still recall using old tables covered with tarps to shelter our goats, chickens etc as I’d gotten them prior to building a barn! Learned to do a whole lot but also learned by making mistakes(of which I made many). After many years I sold my place and lived “in town” for a few years. Now I’m ready to move back to a rural homestead. Hopefully by now I’ve learned a lot about what NOT to do and things will go smoother.


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