Going off Grid, Part 3: Homesteading

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. Read Part 1 and Part 2

Like most farmers, we have chickens. Chickens are a large part of our daily routine. We start each day with our one and only rooster's unique attempt at crowing, usually hours before sunrise.

He's not loud, but he is creative and punctual. His announcement is a seminole moment on the farm as it marks the beginning of a daily routine, where each and every living thing on the farm plays a part and contributes its own unique gift to what my wife calls the 'dance'.

The Daily Dance

The 'dance' begins when the sounds of a dozen cattle growing restless in the pasture get us up from our beds. One old bull named Clipper has learned to kick the fence, which rattles a cowbell. It's his way of saying “you're late” if we're not there at the crack of dawn. This time of year they've got plenty of grass, and aren't necessarily hungry. Sometimes I think they just enjoy human contact – or watching us work. Either way, they provide us with food, so I happily oblige their indulgences.

After feeding the cattle, we enjoy the half mile walk to the barn along a well-worn path beside the creek, under tall cedar and fir trees.

The old barn has withstood a hundred winters. The last one took off part of the roof in a windstorm. (Repairing that is one of the many things to be done this fall, before the snows come once again).

In the barn, the old cow Daisy Duke provides up to eight gallons of milk a day. She has to be milked at least three times and she eats about 100 pounds of feed each day, which is a combination of hay, grain, and silage we make from dried corn stalks mixed with proteins, such as ground organic soybean meal. The animals provide so much for us that this step is critical. The livestock depends on us to keep an ample supply stored in an airtight silo for overwinter feed supply or they would die during the long, hard winter months.

Being a dairy cow she also must take vitamins and minerals that we are lucky enough to be able to exchange for in barter at the local veterinarians clinic. Its good to know your local vet's needs and how to trade for their services when living off grid. You will need their services or learn to be a vet yourself.

It also helps that Daisy has been here for nearly twenty years, she is a well known and much loved member of our community because she provides so much milk and has such an agreeable manner.

After milking and feeding the cow, feeding the three horses, brushing, bandaging and binding their manes, tails and legs whenever necessary, we turn the horses and a herd of Kinder Goats out to pasture. Smaller goats eat less than their full-sized counterparts, and so they cost less, almost nothing, to keep. The advantages of smaller animals to care for become more and more obvious as we get older.

The best part of the day is when our work turns to the garden. With any luck, we get there before the sun is up too high.

The Dance in the Garden

Our garden is overflowing with corn, squash and beans in the Three Sisters style of planting. Every year we increase our crop varieties, experimenting, and trying new things. Some work, some don't. Our root cellar is full of ginger and turmeric root, and we have a collection of matsutake mushrooms growing in a five gallon bucket. We hunt and gather the oyster, honey and wild morel mushrooms when available.

The garden covers about two acres now and includes four varieties of corn, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic, spinach, tomatoes, leaks and lemons, beets, berries and broccoli, carrots, cabbages, kale, cauliflower and cucumbers, peas, pumpkins, and peppers, sunflowers fruit trees and acres of wildflowers; all what we’ve propagated, planted and tended from seedlings.

We're hoping to grow coffee and asparagus next spring. This fall we're planting sugar maples in the meadow where there is water just below the surface. Things like sugar are too expensive to buy and when it literally grows on trees, then its obvious we need to bring it into our land use plan.

After an hour of tending the garden, we take our bounty of herbs, legumes, veggies, along with the eggs collected from our rambunctious hens and whip up a completely organic, farm fresh breakfast. Of course, I wish every day at the homestead was as blissful, and there are days you can't see how you'll keep up. But take a look at the good versus the bad of self sufficient off grid living and compare to the anxiety of the nine to five job.

The (Big) Benefits of this Dance

The first and foremost benefit is the exercise. You'll never need a gym membership while you're working your butt off earning the fruits of your labor. (You'll find that all the benefits have multiple applications and dual purposes; such is the essence of sustainability.)

Less pressure is another great benefit. Localized living reduces the scale of potential threats, you learn you can overcome anything rather quickly. That peace of mind means less stress, less anxiety and better rest – all of which correlate to better health. Plus producing your own resources brings a sense of achievement. You're accomplishments are measured by the mouthful, not by the direction of a flow chart in some corporate investor's portfolio.

You also reduce expenses by reducing dependency on things like food, transportation to get food, and the energy you need to heat, cool and keep your lights on in your home. Instead of buying wood, you can find dead trees that need to be removed and use the wood from that tree to heat your home. No money exchanged, and you pay nothing for a winters heat supply. Like most of the sustainable practices, the more work you put in the less money you will need to succeed.

No need for entertainment; there is never a dull moment on the farm. There are always fun, exciting things going on that can inspire every emotion and there is never the same day twice. As you solve one problem after another, you'll soon find great satisfaction from the definitive result that you created yourself, and you’re bound to feel pretty good about life by the end of the day.

Learning to observe and participate in the repeating cycles of the four seasons and doing the daily chores of farm life, especially gardening, are the perfect medicine for rehabilitation of physical or emotional strains. There are things to do on a farm that every aged person can enjoy no matter what there physical or mental condition might be.

Chiefly among these benefits is also the benefits of new perspective on what it is to understand life.

Raising your own livestock for sustenance will change the amount of importance you place on the way animals are treated and seeing your cows graze on organic grains in a pasture of green will give you a new perspective on organic vs. mass-produced meat and dairy. Disasters both manmade and natural are inevitable, but with a self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll have a leg up on how to survive and even thrive in a survival or emergency situation.

Constant Improvements for Constant Growth

One of things we do each year is add another resource to our self sufficiency list. This year it was Sustainable Chicken Feed.

Meal Worms are perfect for self sufficient farming. Start with a few that you can purchase at your local bait shop. Place them in a plastic container of any shape or size. A clear quart jug works great so you can watch the farm grow.

Put some oatmeal on the bottom. The Meal Worms will eat the oatmeal and begin growing, the more they eat the faster they will morph into the reproductive stage of adult beetle. Those worms turn into a dry larvae, a chrysalis from which a beetle will emerge. Tear up an egg carton or cereal box for shade and places to hide, and a place to lay there eggs.

Soon you'll have dozens of beetles appear on the bottom of your jug. Those beetles lay eggs, and the process repeats exponentially, until you have millions of worms. Three dozen beetles will produce enough worms to feed a half dozen chickens and supplement their grass, clover and grain scratch with much needed protein to produce the best eggs and a happy, healthy chicken.

What can top a day of happy, healthy living self sufficiently in the lap of our beautiful Earth's bounty? Not much.

Living off grid and off the land must be a labor of love. Being able to care for your family and your animals is hard work. When you look back on the day and all you've accomplished and learned in your quest to be self sufficient you will be proud and you should be.

Becoming self-sufficient isn’t easy. There is a good reason people do not want to chop off the head of a chicken, pluck its feathers, and eat it. But the rewards are greater than the struggles. There are many financial, emotional, mental and physical benefits that come from all the many facets of self sufficient living that make the joys of a life off the grid that much more rewarding.

One thing you can be sure of: You'll spend more time doing what you love, when you love the work you do. Happy farming!