This homesteading thing is hard y’all. Rewarding? Absolutely. Impossible? Some days.
If I’m feeling honest, I will admit my frustrations to anyone who asks. (Scratch that… I’ll unload and border on whining some days…)
I’ve had many moments over the last 3 years of homesteading when I considered throwing in my muck boots. I don’t mean those times when I threw up my hands and yelled out loud, scaring poor Bixby–my loyal labradoodle who is always by my side–in the process. No those moments happen pretty often, but they’re momentary, because most days I genuinely love what I do.
If you’d like to know the whole process of how I trained my dog to be kind to my free-ranging chicken, I explained that in great detail in this post.
But there are those distinct times, that I remember well, when I logically thought through the process of how I could quit this ride. Get off the homesteading bus all together. Give away the animals and move to a new little house close to town. Every one of those specific times always revolved around one of two situations.
Death is One Painful, Difficult Aspect of Homesteading
I’m not thinking of the animal processing when I mention the death that disheartens me.
I’m a farm girl at heart.
I grew up in the home of a country boy and a farm girl who grew up on poor family farms during the Depression. Mom and Dad moved to midAtlantic suburbia when they were young newlyweds. They traded in daily milking, acres of hand plowing, and annual hog butchering for a tidy little home on 1/10 an acre of a fenced-in, well-manicured square of Kentucky bluegrass, a small rectangle of a vegetable garden, and a 5-minute commute to 3 different brightly-lit, fancy-tiled grocery stores.
I understand all homesteads inherently involve death.
Yes, even as a child I was acquainted with the reality that animals must die in order for us to eat. My favorite childhood memories revolve around my granddad’s old farmhouse with the enclosed, narrow, windy stairs that led to the chilly room I shared with cousins every Thanksgiving, because it was deer hunting season, and occasionally again in the spring, because it was butchering season. After the hunters had a successful day in the fall, we would all gather in my uncle’s cinder-block basement to process the meat.
I have wonderful childhood memories on my granddad’s old farm. But I didn’t realize I was a part of was a quickly dying, self-sustaining way of life.
In the spring I loved watching the entire process from beginning to end of how a pig that had been given a good life then provided delicious food for my uncle’s family all year long. (That’s 8- or 9-year-old me behind my grandmom’s wood stove in the farmhouse kitchen, where many a rabbit stew provided great, welcome nutrition to a family of 10 kids in the country.)
I’m truly in favor of good, profitable death on a homestead, if it’s done well, with thanksgiving to the Creator and with respect to the animal.
It is very sad to me to see animals die from a defect or problem at birth, that’s not the death I’m referring to either.
We’ve nurtured baby rabbits successfully when a young momma didn’t allow them to nurse and seen them grow into healthy thriving adults. But we’ve also spent many hours dropper-feeding a sweet newborn bunny who died even after tender care.
I helped my daughters care for and nurse the premie all afternoon after its momma seemed to be rejecting it. In the night, the momma finished preparing her nest and gave birth to many more; she then took this little one back under her care but it died a few days later.
We spent a long night wrapping the deformed, splayed leg of a chick and helping her stand and learn to bear weight on her wrapped foot. She learned within hours and grew to adulthood.
But we have also anxiously watched more than one baby chick die within a day or two of birth from neck and leg deformities.
But I despise it when my foolishness kills animals in my care.
The most difficult aspect of animal death on a homestead is when animals die needlessly because I make a foolish mistake. Last month, a foolish thing I’d done for years, without realizing it was foolish, cost the life of a beautiful rabbit who was only days away from providing our family with a nutritious, farm-raised meal.
Yes, we raise meat rabbits. Rabbit meat is one of the most nutritious, healthiest options you can consume, especially if you have personally cared for the animal and know everything it has eaten. So we’ve raised them for years. We have many cages set up, needing to leave babies with mommas for many weeks, then keep males and females apart until processing. Beside our cages, we have a tall pile of bowls that we interchange in their cages, to fill with food and water. (A “perfect food bowl” is one of my favorite finds at the “give and take” room at our local dump. That and old cooking pans to line under their cages, to collect our “fertilizer.”) But never once did I consider choosing their food dishes based on if they were top heavy or easily flipped over.
Last month when I discovered a rabbit stiff, cold, and lifeless with his head trapped under one of those bowls and one of his peers sitting on the upturned bowl, well it was one of those distinct times when I logically thought through the process of how I could quit this homesteading life. Get off the homesteading bus all together. Give away the animals and move to a new life.
I cried big tears that made warm tracks down my cold cheeks as I cradled his stiff, sad body to the marsh to dispose of him. I did a lot of praying on that journey through the cow’s pasture and down a wooded slope, asking God why this way of life has to be so very hard sometimes. Asking Him why I have to keep on orchestrating so many bitter blunders.
After praying more and talking things over with my daughter, I came to the decision that for now we will keep on keeping on with meat rabbits. Maybe someday it will be time to take a break from raising rabbits, or ducks, or hens, or dairy cows, but I am certain that, for now, homesteading is the difficult but rewarding way of life I am supposed to be living.
My Solution to This Difficulty?
Our pile of dishes by the rabbit’s cages is much smaller. I went through and tossed all the ones that the rabbits would be able to get their noses under and tip over. So hopefully this foolish loss won’t happen again while rabbits are in my care.
I also decided the best I can do, for now, is to keep on learning from my mistakes and keep on sharing them with you.
And I’m grateful that many of you have told me how my huge mistake with my rooster saved many of your hens.
My learning experience with my broody hen helped you train a hen to adopt new babies.
And my failure at hatching eggs helped you incubate successful flocks.
So there is benefit in the sorrow. For that I am extremely thankful.
In my next post I share the second hardest aspect of homesteading and my best solution I’ve come up with for that one too.
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