There seems to be a movement among Americans these days, out of the city and into the countryside. However, many city dwellers are having a difficult time with their choice of the perfect homestead. Those seeking to ditch the rat race will find helpful tips in this article to make their simple life enjoyable. I have lived in the country most of my life on everything from a 600 acre cattle farm to a one acre mini-stead. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Knowing what you want from your homestead will determine which outweighs the other.
Tip #1 Be realistic about what you want to do with your property. If you want a nice sized garden and some chickens, then you don’t need a large piece of property. Having more property than you will use produces a huge headache called maintenance. Having too little property can produce its own headache of deciding where to squeeze everyone in and higher feed costs as grazing is limited. Having livestock requires more land for proper grazing and lack of such means more feed you have to purchase. A good question to ask yourself is if this will be a hobby for the weekends or do I want it to produce money? This will help you decide what you want to do with the property and what you will expect to get from it. Our little homestead provides enough food to help on our budget, and sometimes a bit extra. This bit extra always seems to go right back onto repairing something and there is always something that needs repairing in the country.
Tip #2 Be realistic about your knowledge and abilities. People who have never had a houseplant, or grown a tomato plant in a container, might take a few years to be a success at growing their own food in a large garden. Women who expect to keep a perfect manicure may not be suited to life in the country, especially on a working farm. Life in the country is physically hard work and lends itself to sore muscles, broken nails, and callouses. No, it isn’t always like this. However, if breaking a sweat a couple months out of the year sounds like torture then you might not enjoy life in the country. If you are looking forward to getting your hands dirty, making some mistakes, and getting a workout better than any gym could provide then country life might suit you well.
Tip #3 Be realistic about the location. Are you planning on keeping your job in the city, and if so, how far are you willing to commute? Do you want the country life with the ability to enjoy the perks of the city on a regular basis? These are important questions to ask that will determine the areas that you are willing to live. If you are only willing to drive 30 minutes to get to work then the perfect homestead and hour away will make you miserable even though it seems perfect. Also, how long of a commute can your budget handle, especially with today’s high cost of fuel. The further you live from the city the less likely you will want to drive that distance to enjoy a night out. When we moved to our current homestead we were thirty miles from the city and 45 from my husband’s job. This was not a big deal as gas was cheap then and neither of us minded the commute. Now that gas is much higher this distance has put a serious crunch into our budget and how many trips into the city we make. If you can’t afford to drive into the city to visit friends, shop, or whatever the case may be then you need to ask if you are willing to live with the isolation of being out in the country.
Tip#4 Be realistic about your budget. Understand the ways in which your monthly budget might change by moving into the country. A plus is that if you are used to eating out a lot your food cost will shrink as you learn to eat in more. However, if you are used to walking to work then your transportation cost will skyrocket. Renting in the city means that your landlord takes care of building maintenance, but if you buy in the country then you have the expense of building maintenance as well as property maintenance. Planning on having some type of livestock, how will you budget their feed, veterinary care, and purchase cost. If you plan on making a living from the homestead how long can you pay the mortgage and utilities if you don’t have income? Income from a homestead is always uncertain. Sometimes you can have a booming year with enough rain to have a good harvest and those calves selling for top dollar. Then there are the years where a heat wave and drought decimate the crops and the bottom falls out of the beef market. Are you prepared for this?
Tip #5 Be prepared to look, look, look some more and then compare. When most people look at a piece of property, usually the first thing that they look at is the house. I learned the hard way that the most important to study first is the topography of the land. My husband and I thought we had found our perfect starter homestead. It had a fish pond, lush gardens, established fruit trees, and room for a chicken coop. Nine months after we moved in we received a freak rainstorm that dumped 18 inches of rain in about 6 hours. We had not paid attention when looking at the property where the rain might go. We found this out rather quickly as the excess rain made its way towards our house and then into it. Being in a flood prone area never occurred to us as we were not near a river or lake and 8 miles as the crow flies from the beach. When the rain stopped the water kept coming and we wound up with three feet of water in the house and a nightmare situation. That lesson taught us to always look at the lay of the land first. Now fifteen years later, on a different piece of property, it has been raining heavily for the past 11 hours, and our home is high and dry. The lower pastures look like small lakes, but there isn’t one in the house or barns. Topography is definitely important.
Tip #6 Be realistic about what kind of land it is. Knowing what you want to do will let you know what kind of land you need. Gardening requires good soil that can be worked. Two inches of soil on top of bedrock will just lead to heartache. However, if you want some sheep or goats and some chickens with just a small garden that same soil could support some pasture with a small raised garden for the family. Heavily wooded land needs to be cleared for pastures and gardens. Are you willing to do this and how are you going to do this? Is the land very hilly, even mountainous? Is it rolling hills or flat? Looking at the lay of the land and what type of land it is will give you a good idea of what you can realistically do with it. Getting a soil sample and getting it analyzed will help tremendously in being able to determine what you would be able to do on that property.
Tip #7 Be realistic about the house. If there is a home already on the property then now is the time to check it out. Is it an older home or a relatively new one? Is the home big enough to suit your needs now and in the future? No matter how great the property is, if you aren’t’ happy with the house then you will be miserable and eventually hate living there. If you aren’t handy with tools then I would suggest staying away from an old home. Repair people charge extra to come out to the country and can’t always be scheduled quickly. Old homes break more easily than new ones, they are cranky critters. I live in one. True, old homes are charming and full of character. With that charm and character also comes old wiring, leaky basements, sinking foundations, leaky pipes, and countless other charming traits. So when considering property with an older home make sure you are willing to go with the flow, so to speak, and make small repairs yourself. At least be able to stop a gushing spray of water until the plumber from town can get there day after tomorrow. Newer homes don’t have quite the character and charm, but they also come with less cranky attitudes as well.
The last lesson of the day is that there really is no perfect homestead, but by following these tried and true tips you can come pretty close. We live in an old home on an old piece of property. When we moved here the pastures were overgrown and many of the outbuildings were falling down. With a lot of hard work, time and money we are happy. There is still more to do an by the time we are too old to enjoy and keep up the property we will have it just right. We have suffered some disappointments in the past with other homesteads and have truly learned from them as well as this one. Hopefully, by following these tips you too will be able to ditch the rat race of the city and enjoy the simple life of the country.