Homesteading is whatever you decide to make of it, much like anything in life. But the more I talk with friends, family, and total strangers, the more I realize there are plenty of stigmas out there about homesteading.
One person assumed I’m a hippy (only partially true). Another close family member had a preconceived notion that, because I raise ducks and chickens, I must have to shoot all kinds of predators (I don’t). A complete stranger once called me a liar because I didn’t “own land.” It’s enough to make your head spin, especially when you know that being a homesteader doesn’t mean it has to look a certain way. That being said, now is as good a time as any to dive into a few common misconceptions about homesteading.
This is completely understandable as to why someone might reach such a conclusion, but rest assured that it’s not true. The amount of land you have should be the last thing to stop you from having a homestead. Anyone with a modest backyard, and I mean modest, can run a fantastic homesteading setup with minimal land requirements.
Want to make things easier? See my previous articles about growing vegetables in containers, and vertical gardening to help save space while maximizing yields. As far as raising animals goes, most people don’t realize that meat rabbits often don’t fall under livestock in local by-laws, but in fact, are categorized as pets instead.
Raising and butchering meat rabbits isn’t your thing? Try raising Coturnix quail instead. These little birds need minimal room, are extremely quiet, and once fully mature, can lay one egg a day. I had an eight-by-four-foot pen that housed thirty of them, 27 of which produced some of the best pickling eggs I’ve ever known. Again, check your local by-laws, but I’m willing to bet that when you do, Coturnix quail don’t fall under the category of poultry.
This one really gets under my skin, not only because it’s far from the truth, but because I’ve had some folks who have ripped me off because they were under the notion that since my hens had laid them, those eggs don’t cost a dime on my end.
Don’t be this person. When you add the costs of feeding your birds, making sure they have clean bedding, the coop you more than likely took the time to build, fencing, and all the time spent looking after them, those eggs you're collecting are probably the most expensive eggs money can buy.
We sell ours to friends, family, and coworkers in order to offset the cost of having the birds. When we worked out the costs, we found that as long as we’re selling about three dozen eggs every two weeks, the birds essentially pay their rent. Sometimes we break even. Sometimes we don’t.
But we explain to anyone who purchases from us that the money they’re spending almost always goes back into the birds themselves. Sometimes this includes buying materials to make adjustments to their coop, a new kiddie pool for our domestic ducks (their claws make short work of the plastic pools) or new gloves for handling manure. No egg is a free egg. Not now, not ever.
My lord, wouldn’t that be nice? While it’s fun to romanticize being entirely self-sufficient and growing all your own food, it’s seldom the case. Why? Well, for the most part the vast majority of us still have to deal with this pesky thing called winter, and no matter how big our backyard greenhouse might be—or, if you’re like me, you don’t have one at all—the reality is that it makes it extremely difficult to feed yourself all the essential things our bodies need throughout the year.
If you’re like me, you’ll do everything in your power to make sure if something is planted—it’s going to produce food in one form or another. If we’re planting a tree on our property, it’s going to be a fruit tree. I can’t eat sod, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t. The less grass I have, the more room I can use for growing things that will end up on my dinner plate.
To add to that, I don’t get drawn into the entire self-sufficiency dream as much as most folks would think. Instead, I tend to focus on things that are within my immediate control rather than dreaming about my perfect property with a river that I can draw power from and a roof full of solar panels.
Why do people think I’m poor? Because I’m a homesteader and often smell like the butt end of a Cayuga duck after doing chores? Just because someone chooses a simple lifestyle, don’t be fooled into thinking they’ve been forced into it.
Most of the time, homesteading is a conscious choice to live a more simple, deliberate life as a means not only to reassure oneself as to where some of their food comes from but also to maintain active self-care for the mind and soul. Often, the best part of my day is being out in the yard, collecting eggs, building raised beds, and watching my ducks and chickens tear our lawn to pieces. I’m certainly not wealthy, rest assured, but I’m also not in a position where without my homestead, I'd be slurping slime off of rocks down by the river, either.
I could not disagree with this more, and while I might not go out of my way to make sure all of the chickens and ducks we raise have names, I do make a point of talking to them, spending time around them, and thinking of them as more than future meals. Each and every animal we raise has multiple purposes, whether it be for their ability to put on weight, their incredible knack for turning garden pests into protein, egg-laying capabilities, or entertainment value. Each and every critter has its place and is a major asset to our homestead.
We don’t have to purchase manure in the spring because we can use the ducks’ poop for growing pumpkins and squash. We give our birds dandelions when they’re still chicks or ducklings so that when they’re older, they’ll climb over each other to rip up the dandelions on the lawn. Our chickens have been monumental in keeping the squash bug population on the brink of collapse. Hornworms don’t stand a chance, and our laying hens aggressively chase away the American Robins that come to raid our blackberries in the summer.
We’ve developed a system that works for us, and it wouldn’t be so if it weren’t for our feathered friends doing what they do. Attachment is a small, minuscule price to pay for happiness.
Don’t let anyone dictate how and why you homestead. Whether it’s for financial reasons, personal reasons, ethical reasons, or all of the above, it’s important to take things on under your own terms. Not only will it make your life simpler, but it will also make it more rewarding.