Homesteading homesteading difficulties

The hardest thing about homesteading

The hardest thing about homesteading? That’s a tough question, with a whole lot of possible answers.

But last week I told ya’ll I think I can narrow it down to two aspects that are the most difficult for me. Today I’m discussing the second one. And boy does it cut this southern girl to the bone.

Death is One Painful, Difficult Aspect of Homesteading

I explained last week that I’m a farm girl at heart, and I understand that the very nature of homesteading involves death. In fact, I wrote, “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.”

Go to the link right here to read more about my thoughts on when an animal’s death is an extremely difficult aspect of homesteading for me.

Bad Weather is Another Painful, Difficult Aspect of Homesteading

Since as I write this it is in the negative temperatures this week in New England, and I’m cold sitting in front of a fire . . . Since our old farmhouse windows are covered in thermal blankets to diminish the draft, but I’m still not warm . . . Well, obviously the foul weather I’m thinking of right now is the bitter cold days of winter.

If you’d like, read my favorite story about old, golden windows (when they’re not covered in thermal blankets that is), or read about the bitter truths and joys I’ve discovered as an old farmhouse owner, horribly drafty windows and all.

Of course unbearable drought, intolerable mud and rain season, or tenacious heat waves would all also qualify as bitterly disheartening to a homesteader.

I’m a southern farm girl at heart.

As I said, I’m not only a farm girl at heart, but a southern farm girl. I was born and bred in the MidAtlantic area and I’m a lot like my southern boy Daddy when it comes to bitter cold. I don’t like it. Yeah, I know Mid-atlantic is not really “south,” but it’s referred to as “south” by every New Englander I’ve ever met. I’m pretty sure most people don’t realize that little old Delaware falls to the right side of the Mason Dixon line.

My daddy was a southern farm boy.

My daddy grew up in the diminutive, neglected pocket of Maryland that is landlocked by a rigorously straight Pennsylvania border on the north and a mischievous, non descriptive West Virginia border on all other sides. There he grew up a Marylander who never really felt like a Marylander. He lived right on one of those jagged edges of West Virginia and always considered himself part West Virginian. I kinda imagine he thought West Virginia sounded just a wee bit more southern, just a wee bit warmer than Maryland.

You see, Dad had something unusual called Raynaud’s disease. Every winter he’d be colder than everyone else. His hands and feet would be especially cold, sometimes his restricted blood vessels turned his hands whiter than snow. So, yeah, Dad wasn’t crazy about cold weather.

But Dad didn’t really know true bitter cold as a kid. He cared for farm animals. But not in blustering, windy New England snow storm. . .  He helped gather eggs. But never in temps so cold he had to keep every inch of skin covered for fear of frost bite. . . He refreshed animal’s water troughs. But not twice a day because the ice needed to be broken often so they could drink. . .  He helped milk the family cow. But never in -22 degrees.

So have my recent bitter-cold days made me dislike a lot of things about homesteading? Ummmm, absolutely.

Have I considered throwing in the homesteading towel? You betcha.

Will I be putting up a “For Sale” sign this spring and heading south? Nope. At least not this year. One of these winters may do me in and send me packing. But not this year.

My Solutions to This Difficulty?

I’m the first to admit this thing called “homesteading” was never on my radar. And when animals die because of my mistakes, or when severe weather makes animal care close to impossible, I truly consider giving up.

We remind ourselves of our blessings.

Yes, I consider giving up, but I’m still here, on my brutally cold New England homestead in the midst of a brutal winter storm. Because I can’t innumerate the joys homesteading has provided our family. One sweet day last July (Wait. Pause. I need to stop here and take a moment to remember the warmth of July . . . okay, back to what I was saying . . . ) The day our beautiful calf was born provided the deepest joy I’ve experienced as a homesteader.

You can read about sweet Selah’s birth–and the most comical mistake I’ve ever made as a homesteader–right here.

And I remind myself that just six short weeks ago we had our first snowfall of the winter and it was truly magical.–>

We always take our best friend with us.

Seriously, my labradoodle, is my secret to joy some days. Bixby, is my always-by-my-side loyal companion and I can’t help but be content when he’s trudging alongside me, through a foot of winter snow or inches of spring mud. If you don’t have a farm dog, but you have a farm, what are you waiting for? If you’re afraid a dog won’t do well around your free-ranging chicken, never fear. You can train him well.

Read here if you’d like to know every step in the process of how we trained our labradoodle to be a chicken-friendly best friend.

We think delicious thoughts.

We get through some of the worst coldest days by reminding ourselves that one day, indeed, spring will arrive. And, before spring comes sugaring season. If we have maple syrup left still from last sugaring season, winter is my favorite time to bake some of my family’s most-loved maple-infused recipes. We love maple in breads and pies. We use it in marinades and glazes. Honestly, there isn’t much we haven’t baked with maple.

This link takes you to all my insights I’ve shared about our DIY backyard syrup operation.

And this link connects you to some recipes I’ve shared. And this week I’m on the Pioneering Today podcast talking all about maple-infused everything.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

We dress the part.

It’s very importance to wear the right gear when you have to go out in sub-zero temperatures to care for the farm animals. Like warm, lined overalls. (I like wearing a men’s pair, in a loose-fitting size, so I can easily slip them over my regular clothes.) And under gear is imperative, but I like thin options for tops and pants, so I don’t start feeling like an abominable snow lady when I’m all geared up.

Just a few days ago it was a balmy 15 degrees, so my daughter was content in her beautiful knitted hat and she didn’t have to bundle up too much to check on the animals’ water in the afternoon.

That’s my Engineer, by the way. Almost four years ago, one of my first blog posts was about her adventure heading off to college after a lifetime of homeschooling. If you’d like to purchase one of her beautiful hand knitted hats, go here.

We limit our outside time.

But more importantly, I limit my amount of time going outside as much as possible. To keep the chicken and duck water thawed as long as possible (at least on a sunny day, when the black bowl retains any tiny heat the sun gives off), and to have a tough, flexible option that’s easy to twist or even turn over and stomp on to loosen the ice, I love these water bowls.

We don’t milk the cow in sub-zero weather.

And–my best secret EVER to help weather the really unbearable freezing temps that occur every once in a while? We don’t milk the dairy cow when the temperature is below zero.

I actually never knew it was possible, in any circumstance, to not milk a dairy cow routinely, morning and night. Until my teen homesteading daughter bought her own cow and taught me a thing or two.

You see, as long as the momma has a nursing baby, you actually have a lot of freedom in your milking routine. Our family of 4 (because 2 are away at college now) can get all the milk and cream we can use if we only milk Scout once a day. And especially on cold winter nights we like not having to try to go milk for the second time of the day. So we let Selah, Scout’s 5-month-old calf, nurse all day and evening long. To guarantee we have a good supply of milk for the morning milk time, we usher little Selah into her own stall, locked away from momma, but right beside her, every evening. As soon as we finish the morning milking routine, Selah is allowed free-reign once again, all day long, on all the milk she wants from her momma.

And here’s the real beauty. . .  on the nights when the forecast calls for unbearably cold morning temps, we don’t lock Selah away. As simple as that. Yes, it means we’ve had to buy a few gallons of milk the last month, but it is so worth it.


While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. Genesis 8:22 
Trust me, if this southern farm girl can survive a cold New England winter,
you can accomplish any homesteading dream you may have.
So hang in there (and stay warm!).


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2 Comment

  1. My milking secret is out! lol! I did the same thing with my goats. If we had an early morning appointment, I didn’t separate the kids at night. Too hot? Too cold? Too busy? No worries. That was even my secret when we’d take a very occasional weekend away from the homestead, because it’s SO much easier to find a farm sitter if they don’t have to know how to milk goats!

    1. YES! We actually took a mini vacation before Christmas this year and all our farm sitter had to do was make sure the cows were fed, not milked! Such a huge relief.

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